“Our Game 1 is our Game 7 tomorrow.”
One day before the Raptors begin their first-round series with the Wizards, Kyle Lowry left it all on the table.
Toronto has lost its last 10 Game 1s as a franchise. The last seven have featured Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If the pressure to finally take a 1-0 series lead wasn’t high enough, Lowry amped it all the way up.
The Raptors’ biggest opponent in this series is themselves. By every measure, they are better than the Wizards. They have a better net rating, and they were the only team to finish top-five in offensive and defensive rating this season. They get along; the Wizards can’t stop fighting. This year, Toronto even learned to share.
There is a reason they are the East’s No. 1 seed.
And yet, there are still tight sphincters ahead of Game 1. It’s not like they’ve been underdogs in their previous openers. In fact, with Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors have always held homecourt in Round 1. They’ve always given it away after 48 minutes.
Imagine if they lose on Saturday. Imagine the jokes that will pour in from rivals. Imagine the (factual) narrative of the Raptors as playoff chokers re-emerging in a bigger way than ever.
Imagine the memories of 2015 flooding back.
The Wizards want the Raptors, according to Chris Webber. We know why. The Wizards are confident against the Raptors; they witnessed firsthand how Toronto can no-show in the playoffs.
A Game 1 loss would only amplify that overconfidence.
Of course, a series-opening loss also puts the Raptors in a bind to get out of the first round. They’ve overcome it the past two years against Indiana, Miami and Milwaukee, but Brooklyn, Washington and Cleveland (twice).
And even if they get by, it surely hurts to add extra stressful games to the docket before a likely rematch with Cleveland in Game 2.
When they were swept by the Wizards three years ago, everything spiralled following a Game 1 overtime loss. Lowry was clearly playing hurt, and he wasn’t himself. In Game 3, DeRozan hoisted up 29 shots.
Toronto made major adjustments this season to avoid those outcomes. They cut down Lowry’s (and DeRozan’s) minutes and introduced a more egalitarian offensive system.
The main character from that series remain, but the supporting casts have drastically changed, and likely in the Raptors’ favour.
As Lowry said at Friday’s practice on the differences between 2015 and 2018: “I’m slimmer. I have a lot more hair… A lot of things are different.”
Still, the Raptors will need to slay some old demons to prove their playoff prowess.
Obviously, a Game 1 loss isn’t the end of the world. But, man, it would sure feel like it.