The Canadian Press
CLEVELAND–As the Raptors’ practice wound down yesterday, star guard DeMar DeRozan sat alone with his back to the wall and headphones clamped on his hoodie-clad head.
One could only imagine the torrent of emotions whirling inside.
After a nightmarish eight-point performance in the first three quarters, Toronto’s marquee man sat out the finale Saturday night when the Raptors were beaten at the buzzer by LeBron James.
DeRozan, by his own admission a poor sleeper at the best of times, endured another “extremely long” night.
“There’s really nothing much you can do, honestly, but watch the time go by,” he remarked. “And wait for the time to come to be able to get this feeling off you.
“And the only way to get that feeling off you is to go back out there, help your teammates, and get a win.”
Time is running out for the Raptors, who are down 3-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in their Eastern Conference semi-final.
Game 4 goes tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.
One senses the Raptors have no answers–except to come out swinging and hope something connects.
“You choose to continue to fight,” said coach Dwane Casey.
Casey recalled the 1995-96 NBA final when his Seattle SuperSonics, he was an assistant coach, went down 3-0 to the Chicago Bulls.
“Everybody wrote us off . . . but at that time, guys just made up their mind, ‘We’re not going to quit. We’re not giving in, we’re not quitting. Because we’ve got too much sweat equity.'”
There was a bounce-back but no happy ending. The Sonics won Games 4 and 5 before the Bulls put them away in Game 6.
No NBA team has ever rallied from an 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, with 129 trying and failing.
“The easy thing to do is just to write us off, write ourselves off, and say, ‘Hey, look we’re not worthy,'” Casey noted.
“But you choose to be a warrior, you choose to continue to fight.”
Kyle Lowry echoed those fighting words.
“No matter what, you’ve got to just rumble,” he said.
Toronto, which compiled a record season to finish first in the East, has been unable to fire on all cylinders against the Cavaliers. Instead, it has found different ways to lose.
The Raptors led all the way through regulation time in Game 1, only to lose in overtime. James put on a clinic in a Game 2 blowout.
And James delivered the dagger Saturday night with a majestic off-balance buzzer-beater in Game 3 as the Cavs held off one Raptor comeback after another.
Power forward Serge Ibaka has faded out of the starting lineup. DeRozan was reduced to a spectator. Lowry has been hot and cold.
Casey chose not to show his players film of Game 3 yesterday. But he did speak to DeRozan before practice, downplaying the decision to bench his star by saying he didn’t want to break up the quintet he had on the court at the time.
While the Raptors have thrown up their hands at the officiating, with team president Masai Ujiri hit with a $25,000 fine for walking onto the court at halftime to berate the officials Saturday, James simply has dazzled.
He has lifted up his teammates while doing his best to break the Raptors’ spirit by dipping into a seemingly bottomless toolbox to get the job done.
The 33-year-old has trended on social media at Toronto’s expense, adding the word LeBronto to basketball’s vocabulary after having his way north of the border and earning kudos from fellow pros for the wonder-shot Saturday.
“Tough shot. Makes it look easy,” tweeted veteran Dallas Maverick Dirk Nowitzki.
“We really witnessing history,” added Brooklyn point guard D’Angelo Russell.
On the courts yesterday, Golden State dumped New Orleans 118-92 while Houston beat Utah 100-87 to lead their respective series 3-1.