They hope their resilience helps make them stronger as they get ready to face the Cleveland Cavaliers again.
At the least, the Raptors will need to get better at holding on to big leads after blowing a 25-point advantage against the Milwaukee Bucks before winning 92-89 on Thursday night. Toronto took a physical, tiring first-round series in six games.
“We’re just a team up north. We don’t get a lot of respect, and I like that,” coach Dwane Casey said. “As a matter of fact, I think we’re better with our backs against the wall.”
“We’ve got some fighters and scrappers,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We make it hard on ourselves sometimes, but at the end of the day we’re going to go down swinging.” Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images
The Eastern Conference semifinals start in Cleveland on Monday.
“Ready for the next one. Ready for the next one,” guard DeMar DeRozan said. The Raptors’ leading scorer had 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting, along with five steals, Thursday night.
But once again, the Raptors didn’t make it easy on themselves. They looked as if they were on cruise control after DeMarre Carroll’s 3 gave them the 71-46 advantage with 5:16 left in the third quarter.
Then they started resembling the team that got embarrassed in a 27-point blowout in Game 3.
Giannis Antetokounmpo played 47 minutes, mustering enough energy to help spearhead a second-half rally. He repeatedly tore through the Toronto defense to get to the lane, finishing with 34 points. Khris Middleton fought through an illness that bothered him all week to score 19 points.
On offense, the Raptors stopped moving the ball. They had so much success up to that point with throwing quick passes, finding cutters and scoring on pick-and-rolls. The Bucks didn’t trap as much as earlier in the series, throwing a new wrinkle at Toronto.
“I handled it well. I was ready (for) whatever they were going to throw at me,” DeRozan said. “I knew later in the game it was going to be difficult and it was.”
Both teams were tired in the final few minutes, especially the Bucks. But Milwaukee still set an aggressive tone from late in the third quarter through most of the fourth. Casey said his team had lost some composure during the Bucks’ run.
“Our physicality is something we have to look at,” he said. “At the end of the day, I loved our resiliency. I loved how our guys didn’t cave in.”
Toronto answered the Game 3 blowout by winning a defensive slugfest in Game 4, the start of three straight victories to close out the series.
Now it’s on to Cleveland, a year after losing to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals in six games.
Casey said again Thursday night that his playoff-tested team knows how to respond to adversity. The Raptors are used to being doubted.
“We’re better from that standpoint,” he said. “We’ve got some fighters and scrappers. … We make it hard on ourselves sometimes, but at the end of the day we’re going to go down swinging.”