Why I Can’t Love These Raptors

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s not a secret that I love Toronto sports. In fact, talking about them is one of the only ways my family connects with me. I have an opinion on every team–except the freakin’ Argos–and I’m usually willing to share them with you.

But I do have a secret. One that I don’t like to talk about. That secret being that I don’t really like the Raptors in their current form.

I know, I know, blasphemy. Believe me, it hurts me to say it. Some of my earliest sporting memories include the 2000-01 Raptors run and my first taste of Toronto heartbreak was Vince Carter’s missed shot in Game Seven against the Sixers. The team holds a special place in my heart, so when last year’s squad set a franchise record for wins in a season and I could only think of their flaws, it was disheartening.

My biggest complaint is that as the play of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry goes, as does the team. They have the ball in their hands on almost every possession, and often the possessions end late in the shot clock with a contested mid-range jumper. If you look around the NBA, this isn’t a style that the most successful teams use.

To see how this style of play might not work, you have to look at last year’s playoffs. Yes, I know, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, but in how many of their games were the Raptors actually enjoyable to watch? I remember pulling my hair out watching the playoffs and seeing possession after possession of missed shots and broken down plays. Yes, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, but it all could’ve gone much worse. The Raptors struggled to put away the Pacers in the first round, and got through the Heat after they had lost their two top big men.

The team was very close to another playoff disaster and could’ve been a very different looking team this year. We know that head coach Dwane Casey would’ve been fired if the team had lost to the Pacers, and who knows if DeMar DeRozan would’ve left in free agency or if the Raptors would have let him. And this year has come, and the Raptors are playing the same way.

However, there is a possibility that I’m wrong and that’s mostly due to the play of DeRozan. Through seven games of the regular season, DeRozan is scoring 34.1 points per game, enough to lead the league in scoring. Inspired by a less than flattering ranking from Sports Illustrated that saw him listed as the 46th best player in the NBA, DeRozan has put up 30 or more points in six of the first seven games, something that only Michael Jordan and Bernard King have done before.

But I have to wonder if DeRozan playing this well can last forever. There are still so many shots that he takes where I find myself grimacing, only to relax when he makes them. If he slows down, the Raptors could be in trouble. That happened in the Raptors’ game against Sacramento this past Sunday, where DeRozan went 7-for-20 from the field and resulted in a five-point home loss to a team that is not expected to do much this season.

I won’t go as far as to say the Raptors are a bad team. That’s simply not true. They have the seventh best Net Rating in the NBA this season and look poised to fight for the division title again this year. But my point is that they might not be good enough and don’t show enough growth in their playing style to warrant belief that they will be able to make it to the Finals or even a repeat appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So while the season is off to a great start, I can’t shake the feeling that it will have a disappointing ending like it has the past three years. I can’t shake the feeling that when it comes down to it, my head will be in my hands lamenting bad possession after bad possession.

For my sanity and the sanity of Raptors’ fans everywhere, I hope I’m wrong about these Raptors.

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Featured image via Sportsnet

What to Watch Now That the Jays are Gone

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s official: the long cold baseball-less winter is upon us.

Despite any amount of hope fans may have had, the Blue Jays were unable to rally back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series last week.

But the end of the baseball season means we can now turn our collective attention to the other teams in this city. And, for what it’s worth, this is turning out to be as good a winter in Toronto as we’ve had in a few years.

Raptors

Let’s start with Toronto’s most successful team as of late. The Raptors ended last year on a high having made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Although the team was outmatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was some joy found in taking two games from the eventual champs in between four blowout losses. Winning a playoff series was the main goal last year, and, though they struggled to do so, they won two of them.

This year, gauging the team’s success might be a bit more difficult.

A repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finals would be appreciated but can hardly be expected. Multiple teams in the East have improved in the offseason, including division rivals Boston and New York, so the Raptors shouldn’t be considered a lock for anything like last year.  But a first round elimination would feel like a step backwards for a team that overcame so much in terms of shaking the franchise’s monkeys off their backs.

Perhaps the team’s success will be determined by the actual product on court, rather than the mile markers the team passes on their way to being eliminated. The team, and particularly newly minted Olympic Gold Medallists Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have been criticized for playing “hero ball” in the past that has been a detriment to the team. If the team can play in a more effective way – one that doesn’t leave fans burying their face in their free giveaway t-shirt – elimination won’t feel as bad and might provide more hope for the future.

Leafs

The Leafs have not been must-see TV for a few years now. If you opened up the fridge of Toronto sports and all you saw was the Leafs, you’d complain that there was nothing to eat. But this year’s version of the Buds is already way more appetizing.

The only thing the Leafs have won in recent memory was the draft lottery at the end of last season. With that came the arrival of Auston Matthews. The 18-year-old American centre has been anointed the saviour of the Leafs and so far, he’s lived up to the high praise. In his first NHL game, Matthews scored four goals, a feat that had never been accomplished before by anyone in their first game.

And he’s not the only youngster getting in on the action. Mitch Marner has also been turning heads, notching three points through five games, including a great goal against Boston in the Leafs home opener. And William Nylander has nine points through six games, including a two-goal night against Chicago this past Saturday.

Unfortunately, the goal scoring has not led to success for the Leafs as of yet. They have just one win this season and have blown third period games in four of their six games so far this season. But at least they are starting to look relevant again, right? A team that scores goals but can’t prevent them is more enjoyable than the opposite any day of the week.

Toronto FC

And finally, we have TFC. The butt of many jokes in Toronto sports, TFC have actually put together their most successful season to date. Gaining a franchise high 53 points, the Reds have secured a home playoff match for the first time in the team’s history. They will take on the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night at BMO Field in a win-or-go-home match with a spot on the Eastern Conference semi-finals on the line.

Once again, it has been a spectacular season for Sebastian Giovinco. If it wasn’t clear after his first season with the club, we can say for sure that he is the best player in team history after his second. He scored 17 goals and racked 15 assists without even playing a game in September.

A win on Wednesday and a somewhat deep playoff run could finally give TFC their fair share of the media attention. It’s hard to think that a team sitting near the top of their conference for most of their season and an MVP candidate on their roster – kind of like the Blue Jays of the last two years – would be relegated to the middle of the sports section or to the latter part of a Sportscentre broadcast, but that’s where TFC often find themselves. TFC have the best chance to bring the city a championship and deserve to be treated that way.

Featured image via Toronto Star

How to Cheer for Toronto Teams on a Budget

If there’s one thing the last year has shown us, it’s that Toronto teams are working hard to make their fans proud.

But team pride and coming together means a lot of bars and, you guessed it, high bar tabs. And when you have an entire city getting hammered with you in the name of team spirit, blowing money on drinks somehow seems justified.

But it really isn’t, and your bank does not offer city pride rebates. Being smart with your money while supporting Toronto teams doesn’t mean you have to sit at home with a meal of bread and water while you wait for updates on the radio. You can definitely feel the team spirit without forcing your wallet to feel it, too.

Read the Drink Specials and Spend Accordingly

Even if you are not a big sports fan, any bar when a Toronto team is in the playoffs is infectious. Some might say this is being a bandwagoner. I call it having a good time. But that doesn’t mean you have to order the most expensive items. Take a moment to read over the drink specials. Hell, you might find you like something different (and cheap!) And even if you insist on getting your usual, you can search for drink specials based on day and drink online. 

Sip Slowly – Your Drink Isn’t Going Anywhere

If you are somebody who feels anxious about the server coming over and asking you if you want another drink, sip slowly. They are busy, and they are about their tips. So long as your glass isn’t empty they have nothing to say to you aside from a routine quality check to “see how everything’s going”. Nurse your drink. That way you won’t feel tempted to order multiple rounds just to have something in front of you throughout the evening.

Order Appetizers and See If Anyone Else Just Wants Something To Nibble On

Do a quick survey of your friends to see if people are actually hungry. Most of the time people just want something to nibble on, but convince themselves they should order a full meal. If your appetite is not feeling up to a $15 burger, ask if anyone wants to split an appetizer. Apps are less expensive, and if you are splitting it with someone it will be even cheaper.

Pick a Few Evenings to Be a Teetotaler

You are a hard core “Toronto til the death of me” sports fan who needs to watch virtually every game in a bar surrounded by your people. It’s cool. So choose a few nights to be a temporary teetotaler. Pick a few games where you just don’t drink. Even if you grab some food, your bill will still be significantly lower than a bill that includes several rounds. Your liver thanks you.

Find That Friend With Cable and Parents Who Don’t Give a Damn

I don’t think anyone with their own apartment who is under the age of 25 has cable, but this is Toronto, people. That means a large number of your friends or classmates are from the city or the suburbs and are commuters. You know what this means: houses owned by old people (love you, parents!) with cable. Now, most of those people will have parents who do not want a bunch of rowdy sports fans tearing up their living room, but there is always one with parents cool about it – or at least a friend who is willing to risk a cussing from their parents.

Buy some stuff from the grocery store, make an LCBO run, and watch the game without paying restaurant premiums. Thank their mom on the way out. Don’t spill anything.

Order a Pitcher

Go out with people who like the same drinks as you, and then order a pitcher. If you’re gonna spend money drinking, might as well be in bulk.

AND REMEMBER: Don’t drive drunk. Better passed out on the TTC than dead or a murderer. Cheers xo

Raptors Fans Shine: Reflections on an Incredible Season

Photo credit: Bernard Weil/Toronto Star

By: Sebastian Parodi | @sebastianparodi

“The Raptors are going to get swept.”

That is what the “NBA experts” were saying. That’s what everyone outside of Toronto was thinking. Yet here I am, watching replays of the Raptors’ last game – Game 6, not Game 4.

The Raptors managed to win two games against the strong Cleveland Cavaliers in their first ever Eastern Conference Finals. Just saying that really puts a smile on my face.

Game 6 started off well, much better than games 1, 2 and 5. The Raptors did not let the Cavs get out to an early 20-point lead in the first two quarters. As the game went on though, Cleveland’s talent, poise, and championship caliber appeared. They took hold of the lead and never looked back.

Yet with the whole stadium and those outside in Jurassic Park behind him and his team, Kyle Lowry was not going to let the Raptors go down without one last push. He scored multiple threes and had some drives to the basket that kept the Raptors relatively close in the late third quarter and early fourth. Unfortunately, #lowrytime was not enough to stop the Cavs, but it was reminiscent of multiple occasions during the regular season, when both he and the Raptors refused to quit.

Toronto Raptors Have Come A Long Way

People tend to forget that half a decade ago the Raptors used to get blown out in several games a season. I can’t remember one instance of that this year. Additionally, they were within striking distance of the reigning champions, the Golden State Warriors, when they played a game here in Toronto.

That is what I love about this team. They keep proving people wrong. They may not be as talented as some of the other teams in the league, but no one can deny their level of effort and tenacity. When you witness a team or player doing everything possible to make winning plays and beat the odds, it’s both admirable and contagious.

This is the team that wasn’t supposed to make it as far as they did. They weren’t supposed to win a single game in this series. Not only did they avoid getting swept, but they surprised everyone in the league and put up a fight.

After getting swept by the Washington Wizards in the first round last year, many outside of the Six thought this season would end in disappointment. The Raptors’ goal was simple: win a playoff series. Many doubted them and expected failure. Instead, the team won more than 50 games, which put them in the playoffs as the second seed – a first in franchise history.

Many players had break out seasons. The Raptors beat two strong teams in the playoffs en route to the ECF where they would play a team they beat twice during the regular season. The Raptors not only achieved their goals, but surpassed all expectations. If that doesn’t earn respect and praise for this team, I don’t know what does.

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Raptors mascot pumps up fans outside the ACC before last season’s playoffs. Photo credit: blogTO

The Best Fans in the League Are in Toronto

I strongly believe in supporting the home team no matter what, and that is exactly what “The North” did. I’ve stood out on Jurassic Park and have seen fans from so many different age groups and cultural backgrounds that genuinely love and support the team. Through rain or shine – or even a mix of light flurries – people came out from all corners of the city to support the Raptors whether they lost the game badly or it was freezing cold outside.

No one can doubt the fan base’s loyalty and dedication. Just ask anyone who was at the arena or watching Game 6 against the Cavs on TV. The chant “Let’s Go Raptors” echoed throughout the building with three minutes left in the game, despite the fact that the end of the season was inevitable. People don’t understand how important it is to the players knowing they have support. You could see from their facial expressions, even though they were eliminated, that they were thankful knowing that their efforts did not go unappreciated.

Even Lebron James in a post-game interview expressed amazement at the atmosphere in the ACC. As the crowd continued to chant while the Raptors players were leaving the court, he praised Toronto saying, “Do you hear this? Unbelievable respect and much respect to these fans, to this country – this is unbelievable.”

We really do have amazing fans here.

We The North, Indeed

The “We the North” marketing campaign was a huge catalyst for the fanaticism that gripped the city. For years, the Raptors have been labeled as the other team, Canada’s team, the underdog, or as outsiders, but never as contenders. Needless to say, this bothers a lot of people, including myself. It only seemed fitting that the “We the North” slogan really put that feeling of alienation from the league into perspective. Throughout the Raptors franchise history, they have been completely forgotten and pushed to the side by the NBA universe. You see this easily when you visit NBA.com and notice the lack of news or coverage of the team.

This season, many NBA analysts predicted a first round exit even after the Raptors’ record setting regular season. They barely get any airtime on U.S. national television, and if they do it is most likely due to the fact that Drake is walking up and down the sidelines. The alienation from the league is evident during games through lack of calls going the Raptors way, especially when playing against the other elite teams. This playoff series hopefully gave the league a wake up call.

Raptors’ Terrific Season Means Great Things For Basketball in Canada

As someone who grew up playing basketball, my dream was not only to one day play in the NBA, but to play in front of my city at the ACC. Unfortunately, this didn’t come true. I’ve always felt like if there were more opportunities for young kids to develop, that more people from Toronto and all across Canada would have a better shot of making it to the professional level, whether that be in North America or overseas.

That to me is one of the most important effects of the Raptors success in the playoffs: the development of basketball in Canada. The end of this series marks the beginning of steady growth for the Raptors and more opportunities to bring in high-level talent because players want to play for a contending team. And that means another shot at the Eastern Conference Finals.

Additionally, the attention and respect they have gained not only benefits them, but basketball players across the country. Clearly there is a demand for basketball in Canada and the success of the Raptors as well as the reaction by the fans, should help introduce the necessary foundation to start developmental opportunities for young players.

In just the past five years I have seen improvement in this aspect in the city, and it should continue to grow. The Raptors have a development team that is linked to the NBA, the Raptors 905, which is a tremendous leap forward because that gives players an opportunity to be recruited and scouted by the highest quality organizations in the world. More leagues, clinics, clubs, training sessions, coaches, trainers, will hopefully become more accessible. One model this growth can follow is that of Canadian hockey, where there are multiple leagues and many different ways for players to make it pro.

The Raptors being eliminated was tough to witness, but there are many positives that can be taken from their playoff push and as a fan, they gave me so much more to look forward to both in the ACC and for basketball in Canada.

LET’S GO RAPTORS!

 

Raptors’ Cleverest Fan Is The Toronto Public Library

Photo credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Toronto’s basketball fans are considered some of the most passionate in the League.

“Every colleague I run into from other NBA teams just talks about our fans,” Shannon Hosford, VP of marketing and communications at MLSE told the Toronto Star.

Toronto has put its all into cheering on the Raptors, a team that has been largely dismissed by sports media and other players as the underdog. We even devoted an entire square, Jurassic Park, for them.

One dedicated, yet underrated, supporter is the Toronto Public Library. Its social media game has been on point supporting the Raptors throughout the post season, and today’s post in anticipation of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, is no exception. Check out some of their best posts below.

In anticipation of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals

Celebrating Toronto’s Game 7 win against the Miami Heat

Gearing up for Game 7, which the Raptors would win 116-89

Librarians Show City Pride

The people down at the Miami-Dade Public Library System played along throughout the series, and ended things off with a classy congratulatory post for Toronto.

We have yet to see whether the librarians five hours away in Cleveland will also be game for a little exchange of words.

The tradition of smack talking through book titles started during the ALCS between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals, when the Kansas City Library threw down the gauntlet with a teasing tweet.

The Toronto Raptors face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

“We Want Kobe”: City bids farewell to Bryant during his final game against the Raptors

The Raptors managed to secure a win from the Lakers at the ACC Monday night. Yesterday evening’s game was especially eventful not only for the team’s victory but also because it would be Kobe Bryant’s last time playing against the Raptors.

Last night’s game was an opportunity to watch Bryant play his final game in the city, and Torontonians were definitely feeling the love. The crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted “We Want Kobe” during last night’s game. Fans also took to Twitter to express their disappointment about missing the game, and to bid farewell to Kobe Bryant.

Bryant announced that he will be retiring from professional basketball after the end of this season. This year will mark his 20th season with the NBA and the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team in the NBA for which he has played. He was initially drafted by the Charlotte Hornets but was quickly traded to the Lakers.

The 37 year old shooting guard, who holds five NBA championship titles, announced his imminent departure with a poem on The Players’ Tribune. In the poem he explains that while his heart and mind remain committed to basketball, his body cannot stay in the game forever. His tweet to the piece, titled “Dear Basketball”, was shared over 100,000 times.

The Raptors won 102-93 against the Lakers.

Featured Image from NBA.com via YouTube

Tomorrow’s Drake Night at Raptors game expression of rapper’s Torontoᵀᴹ

One thing’s for sure: Drake either has a wicked understanding of marketing, or he’s hired one stellar team. Love him or hate him, he has effectively moulded the city in his image. Branding is about crafting associations, and there is no mistaking his fingerprints are all over what it means to be from Toronto.

Tomorrow’s Raptors game against the Cleveland Cavaliers will be another expression of Drake’s TorontoTM. It will be the Raptors’ third annual Drake Night, established after the rapper and singer-songwriter was named the team’s global ambassador in 2013. Initially intended as a way to entice a larger crowd with the promise of free merchandise and the city’s star in the stands, this year’s Drake Night is taking place during a game already expected to draw a huge turnout. Fans at tomorrow night’s game can most likely expect to receive free OVO merchandise following the recent release of the joint Toronto Raptors Mitchell & Ness OVO clothing line.

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Toronto Raptors Mitchell & Ness OVO attire now on sale at Real Sports

At least the release of this line has run considerably smoother than the premiere of the Raptors’ new logo last December. A version of the new logo was put up then taken down, and observers criticized it as being a tad unoriginal due to its similarity to the Brooklyn Nets logo. Drake was noticeably unhappy with the choice. He distanced himself by responding to criticism from social media users, tweeting that he had nothing to do with the redesign.

The Raptors managed to win their games during the last two Drake Nights. Here’s hoping that pattern continues tomorrow evening.