Photo credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images
The official postseason kicked off yesterday afternoon, with the wild Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat overtime thriller, but that’s not why we’re here!
With the Raptors watching the playoffs from home for the first time in eight years, it’s time to start living nostalgically for the next couple of months until they find their way back to the playoffs.
Throughout the playoffs, we will be looking back at the best Raptor playoff moments from each round as they begin. Since the first round began yesterday, that’s where we begin today’s history lesson.
We will walk through some of the most iconic moments from the past seven-year playoff streak in what can be called the We The North era. The events listed below are in chronological order, and should be a fun trip down memory lane.
April 29th, 2014: Masai Ujiri Says Something Not Very Nice to Brooklyn
Whoever says that you can’t hear photography has never seen this picture before.
This is one of the most iconic moments in the We The North era, despite the fact that it didn’t even occur during a game. This took place moments before the team’s first game against the Brooklyn Nets in 2014, as they were preparing to take on the geriatric superteam of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Deron Williams.
As fans gathered in Maple Leaf Square, Masai Ujiri came out to make a statement to the fans. He ad-libbed the speech, telling them to get excited for the playoffs and cheer their team on. He was asserting himself as the face of the organization to the fans, and they loved every second of it.
Then, as he was about to get off the microphone, he said something no executive has dared to say before… Now, what was it he said?
Fork Brooklyn? Flunk Brooklyn? Farce Brooklyn? Gosh, I can’t remember it for the life of me.
That was the moment Maple Leaf Square became Jurassic Park. The fans, both inside and outside the arena, erupted. The statement made headlines across North America. Naturally, once the league caught wind of it, they fined Ujiri 25,000 dollars for using public profanity.
Yet, the statement is so quintessentially Masai. It shocked the basketball world because an executive had never done or said anything as bold as what he did on that day. Executives rarely step in front of fans, much less get out to them to rile them up as he did. It was a defining moment, and set the tone for what would follow the next seven years of playoff basketball for the Raptors: tough and unapologetic.
The Raptors wound up losing the series 4-3 on a heartbreaking, last-second blocked shot, but little did fans know at the time it would just be the beginning of the most memorable seven years in franchise history.
April 26th, 2016: Norman Powell, the Rookie, With The Steal… We are Tied!
The legend of Playoff Norm began with this very moment right here.
The setting is Game 5 of the Raptors’ 2016 first-round series against the Indiana Pacers. The series was tied 2-2, and the Raptors fell down 19 points in the fourth quarter, Indiana on the cusp of taking a commanding 3-2 lead in the series.
That is, until Pacers coach Frank Vogel left his bench out for too long and the Raptors went on a miraculous 19-2 run to get back in the game.
And then… the rookie from San Diego stole the ball, ran the other way and threw it down Superman style.
The scene immediately cuts to Jurassic Park going wild (fun fact: I was in that camera shot!). The Raptors wound up taking the lead and barely held on for the win.
That game ended on an equally insane play. Solomon Hill buried a game-tying three, before instant replay overturned the call as the ball was released a tenth of a second too late.
The Raptors would go on to win the series in seven games, their second series win in franchise history and the first since 2001, ending a fifteen-year drought. The dunk is remembered as one of the most prolific moments of the team’s first-round history, and one of the more feel-good hype moments.
April 27th, 2017: DeMar DeRozan Ends the Milwaukee Bucks’ Season with an Emphatic Poster
This is a moment that doesn’t get talked about enough, but as far as unofficial series daggers go, this is a pretty cool one.
It’s Game 6 of the team’s 2017 first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, who at the time were being led by a 22-year old Giannis Antetokounmpo in his first playoff appearance.
By this point, the Raptors had been in the playoffs for four seasons and were considered the favourites in the series. Yet, they continued to struggle offensively, as Jason Kidd’s defensive schemes seemed to befuddle them. (Editor’s note: how anyone was befuddled by Jason Kidd’s schemes is beyond me, he’s so bad).
After a blowout Game 5 win, the Raptors struggled to close out the Bucks in Game 6, with the game coming down to the wire. DeMar DeRozan, who had struggled prior to this game, wound up having his best game of the series, dropping 31 points.
Two of those 31 points were a poster dunk over three Milwaukee Bucks with 48 seconds left. This put the Raptors up by five, and they never relinquished the lead, winning the series in six games.
It essentially served as the series-ending dunk, and it was quite a way to end it. The way DeRozan had to maneuver around the entire defence, and still managed to find a lane to the rim and throw it down ferociously.
Perhaps one of the reasons this moment is less talked about than others is because the Raptors should never have been in that position in the first place. Throughout the series, they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot and struggled to find their rhythm, frustrating fans who had seen them struggle in the first round for four straight years to that point.
Still, they did manage to get out of the first round on this highlight dunk. Despite the circumstance, and the fact that they did end up getting swept in the following round, it was an awesome moment for DeRozan, and in Raptors playoff lore, it does deserve a bit more recognition for the sheer highlight.
April 19th, 2019: Pascal Siakam Leads the Raptors to a 2-1 Lead over Orlando
While this wasn’t a memorable game by any means, it was the moment the Raptors turned this series around and didn’t look back en route to their first championship in franchise history.
The Raptors were stunned in Game 1 against the Orlando Magic on a DJ Augustin game-winning three in the face of Marc Gasol. They rebounded to take Game 2, but now had to win at least one game at Amway Arena to regain home court advantage.
In a game where Kawhi Leonard struggled for most of the night — he only put up 16 points — Pascal Siakam shined, as he dropped 30 on the Magic to take a 2-1 series lead. This game served as a catalyst for the remainder of the series, as the Raptors never looked back. They decisively won the final two games of the series and wound up winning in five.
Of course, the rest is history. But that doesn’t happen without this pivotal Game 3, and Siakam putting the team on his back when the Raptors needed it the most.
August 23rd, 2020: Raptors Drop 150 to Complete First-Ever Series Sweep of Brooklyn
Playoff basketball in August? Sign me up!
It’s 2020, and the Raptors are in the Disney bubble to finish out the pandemic-shortened season. They wound up matching up against the Brooklyn Nets, who battled to finish in the seventh seed despite not having Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
The Nets were decimated at this point, down three starters, as shooting guard Joe Harris left the bubble to tend to a family matter. Head coach Kenny Atkinson and the team had also mutually parted ways some time before the season was suspended, and the team was working with interim coach, former assistant Jacque Vaughn.
The Raptors took a commanding 3-0 series lead, and had the opportunity to go for their first-ever playoff series sweep in franchise history. Not only did they finish out the task at hand, they did so in a dominant fashion.
Toronto dropped 150 points on Brooklyn in a game that was practically decided in the opening minutes. The Nets were tired and just about ready to head home, and home is exactly where they went the next day.
Nevertheless, it was a fun moment for the Raptors, who, for practically the first time ever, had a stress-free playoff series. After losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency, many predicted the team would regress heavily, but they came back that season determined to prove they’re still a force to be reckoned with. They certainly proved that.