Basketball game are fun to watch. All of them. Except when you get to a Game 7 that involves your team. You don’t check everything at the door for a deciding game, you bring all the baggage with you. The Raptors struggled for most of the game. There were familiar themes. Terrence Ross was terrible, Joe Johnson was unstoppable, and even as the lead was trimmed down to single digits in the fourth quarter, it felt like a 20-point deficit, as we stared down another lost opportunity exactly 11 years to the day that we last advanced to the second round.
Inexplicably, this team somehow managed to make it a game in the final minutes. Off a Terrence Ross steal on an inbounds pass, the Raptors were down by one with a chance to win it. I was curled up on my dog’s bed. I just wanted to know what it felt like to be on the other side.
Game 7’s gives you some real insight into your fandom, or just makes you a really angry person. I had people remind me just how other cities and franchises have suffered through similar if not even more terrible droughts. That’s all great, but why do I care about your pain when this is the only one I’m actually experiencing on a day-to-day, year-to-year basis? Following sports is a selfish task, I only have room to bear the pain and joy of my own teams, and that’s especially the case when you start placing all the stakes on one single game.
You want your team to win for many reasons. I wanted it for Nav Bhatia, who’s had season tickets since the start and yet seen so little success. I wanted it for the fans who cheered and rooted for the team in this series like I did, whether they were in the upper bowl with me in Brooklyn, at Maple Leaf Square, or somewhere at home going through the excruciating pain that a playoff series can become.
A lot of people — fans, media, opposing players — were in awe of the fan support, how loud the arena was, and the scene outside the arena. All of this for a round one series. This should only be a surprise because it’s so rare that our fanbase gets to demonstrate just how great they are. If you follow this Raptors team, you know since the beginning we’ve had one of the most dedicated — even obsessed — fanbases. We have a tremendous presence online, whether it’s Twitter, or the RealGM message boards that we’ve all scoured. This city has a thirst, it’s just that we’ve been wandering the desert for most of our existence.
That’s the kind of baggage you carry into a game like this. Game 7’s make you a hypocrite for ever saying that sports doesn’t really matter. It makes you irrational, antsy and just hopeful that the final on the scoreboard is in your team’s favor. You can spend all year and all series talking about process and making the result secondary, but you table all that when the result means so much in one single game.
The Raptors will be back, surely with Masai Ujiri and a promising core of players, there won’t be another 11 year wait until we get another chance at something like this, though I’m pretty sure the 18-year-old me said the same thing after Vince missed that shot on his graduation day. That’s the thing, you don’t really know. And when you root for a team without a record of success, you reach for some assurance and find yourself coming up empty handed.
I’m going to take a 40-minute shower and go curl up in bed for a little bit. The promise of a better future and all of the rational thinking can wait another day. The feeling of being on the other side? That’ll have to wait a little bit longer than that.