Black teenager launches racial justice project in Nova Scotia
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Daily fall forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
SaltWire Selects: Our arts and entertainment picks
What you need to know about COVID-19: September 25, 2020
The demise of a repeat championship season began with the departure of Kawhi Leonard and ended with 18 turnovers in a close-out game.
By themselves, we don’t believe either of those two events would have been enough to derail the Raptors’ bid for a second consecutive championship.
We’ll go even further and say even combined, those two events would not have been enough to end the quest for back-to-back titles.
But in between Leonard leaving — and let’s not forget Danny Green who also fled Toronto — and the Raptors throwing the ball away like they were allergic to it in what would become their final game of the 2019-20 season, a couple of other significant events that have really not been explained either to the public or to the media occurred.
Those four events or occurrences managed to put a second title just out of reach for a team hungry to prove all the doubters wrong.
Without Leonard and Green, the Raptors’ margin for error was a very thin one. They lost the superstar capable of bailing out a team heading for a fall, not to mention a three-and-D threat in Green, who really didn’t get the credit he deserved a year ago.
With those margins so tiny, any dropoff from the remaining rotation players would be magnified and simply much harder to overcome.
Through the regular season, the Raptors handled these dropoffs, which really came in the form of injuries to pretty much every member of Nick Nurse’s top eight. Marc Gasol missed 27 games. Norm Powell missed 20. Fred VanVleet missed 16. Serge Ibaka missed 14. Kyle Lowry missed 12. Pascal Siakam missed 11. Rondae-Hollis Jefferson missed seven and OG Anunoby missed one.
All of those missed games were injuries sustained and pretty much healed before the pandemic hit and closed down the NBA back on March 11.
The Raptors didn’t just survive those absences, they at times flourished while they were going on.
But two of those players came out of the hiatus — and let’s be clear, this is not a blame-game thing going on here — not at the level at which they had been performing before the hiatus.
Siakam and Gasol both arrived at the re-start presumably healthy but not quite what they were for reasons that remain unclear.
Siakam seemed to suggest in his post-game interview in the wee hours of Saturday morning that the lack of access to a basketball court through those first few months of the pandemic played a role in his ineffectiveness as a scorer once the games resumed.
But asked specifically if not touching a ball during the majority of the pandemic led to his less-than-Pascal level of play in the playoffs, Siakam said he really couldn’t say.
“I just felt like I wasn’t at my best and when I’m at my best this team is unbelievable and you’ve gotta be at your best at this time and I felt like I wasn’t,” Siakam said.
Gasol’s struggles were just as odd. Granted he missed more time than anyone before the pandemic with injury and he was coming off quite possibly the busiest year of basketball ever played going into the middle of June last year to help the Raptors win their title and then half way through September on the heels of that as he led the Spanish national team to a world title.
But when he joined the Raptors in Florida, all anyone could talk about was how fit and refreshed he looked.
For whatever reason, the slimmed-down, chiselled Gasol struggled all through the restart trying to find his old game.
Both players received the full support of their teammates as they struggled to regain that lost form and while both experienced moments where it looked like they had turned a corner, both were still obviously struggling in Game 7.
Coach Nurse, who has the utmost respect for both players, defended them publicly, as did their teammates. There was no finger-pointing going on, but the reality of the situation is whether it was this duo or any other one of probably seven players, by not playing at their very best, a repeat just wasn’t in the cards.
Nurse said as much in his post-game breakdown.
“I think that if you’re going to advance to this stage of the playoffs, you need all your guys firing, right?,” Nurse said. “And I’m not saying they all gotta play out of their minds or anything, but they’ve gotta play at a level, right? And I just don’t think we had that, it was a little too sporadic, but again, we kept finding it. We really needed Norman (Powell) in Game 6 and there he was, we needed Gasol and there he was, we needed Kyle and there he was with a monster game, so I know it moves around a lot in the playoffs, and that was the big secret to our success last year. But, I think the bottom line is we didn’t play up to our capabilities, and that’s why we’re going home.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020