The Toronto Raptors are going into the playoffs aiming to win their first championship in their 24 years in the NBA.
They finished second in the Eastern Conference after their 120-100 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves last Tuesday. Wins by Brooklyn and Detroit last Wednesday set up the first-round series against the Orlando Magic.
This will be the second time the teams meet in the playoffs. In 2007-08, the Dwight Howard-led Magic destroyed the Raptors in five games. This time, Toronto is a heavy favourite, led by superstar Kawhi Leonard.
While the Raptors have worked hard to get to this point, Leonard will be the story of this playoff run. He has been watched closely for the entire season because of his unwillingness to say if he will sign with Toronto in the summer. Many believe this playoff run will decide whether he leaves or stays.
Leonard’s biggest performance of the year was in a 122-116 win against the Utah Jazz on New Year’s Day in which he scored a career-high 45 points. Fans are hoping for similar production in the playoffs.
The Raptors have a poor history in the playoffs. The worst moments came when they got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, in 2017 and 2018.
“Raptors playoff history is not very good” said Josh Howe, a writer for Raptors Republic. The buzzer beater by LeBron James last year in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals was especially awful, he said.
“Every Raptors fan was in severe pain after that one.”
To help ease that memory, here are some of the Raptors’ best playoff performances:
1. Vince Carter: May 11, 2001, Game 3, Philadelphia vs. Toronto, ECSF
After the Raptors took the first game of the best-of-seven series, they dropped Game 2 in a five-point loss. Looking to take the lead, Vince Carter came out and scored nine threes in a 50-point effort to lead the Raptors to a thrilling 102-78 victory.
2. Vince Carter: May 18, 2001, Game 6, Philadelphia vs. Toronto, ECSF
After losing Game 5, the Raptors were facing elimination. With the odds stacked against them, Vince Carter put the team on his back. He went off for a game-high 39 points on an efficient 17 for 31 shooting to keep Toronto’s playoff hopes alive.
3. DeMar DeRozan: April 17, 2018, Game 2, Washington vs. Toronto, Eastern Conference Round 1
Back in the 2015 playoffs, the Raptors had been one of the most surprising teams of the season. With eyes set on a championship, they had to get past the John Wall-led Wizards. They ended up getting swept, leaving doubt in the hearts of Raptor Fans. With redemption in mind, DeRozan came out looking to take over this game. He scored 37 points, giving Toronto a commanding 2-0 series lead.
4. Kyle Lowry: May 5, 2018, Game 3, Toronto vs. Cleveland, ECSF
Back in 2018 when the Raptors were down 2-0 and looking to take two games on the road, they needed their stars to break out. DeMar DeRozan had one of his worst games ever in the playoffs, so much so that Dwane Casey benched him. But Kyle Lowry had one of his best performances, scoring 27 points.
“That game had one of the best Kyle Lowry performances,” Howe said.
“DeRozan having been benched brought out Lowry, and he almost brought the Raptors back before O.G Anunoby hit that clutch shot to tie the game.”
Outside of the playoffs, Toronto also had some special moments during the regular season.
Tanor Ngom, a starting forward for the men’s Ryerson University basketball program, goes back to the moment when Chris Boucher got the first lob dunk of his young NBA Career.
“When Lowry threw that lob to Chris Boucher, it really showed the chemistry Boucher has with his teammates,” he said.
“To see how Boucher got to where he is now, from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and coming back from that injury, it was special.”
The first two games of the series will be in Toronto, Saturday at 5 p.m. ET and Tuesday at 8 p.m.