Prior to Monday night, you would’ve been hard pressed to find an American NBA expert who thought the Raptors had a fighting chance in the Eastern Conference Finals. “There is no way in hell that the Toronto Raptors are beating the Cleveland Cavaliers,” proclaimed ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. Hell, CBS didn’t even feel it necessary to include us in their NBA playoffs poll. We The Swept, they all teased.
Welp, the time has come for our stateside friends to eat crow. After dropping the first two games to the Cavs (in admittedly demoralizing fashion), the Raptors returned to Toronto and seized both Game 3 and Game 4, tying the series at 2-2. Jesus. H. Roosevelt. Christ. Following the Raps’ stunning 105-99 win last night, Smith himself got a head start on the humble pie buffet, issuing a personal apology to all of Canada for being so presumptuous. Soak it in, guys.
We appreciate it, Stephen. But we’re not quite ready to forgive you yet. We need a bit of space.
See, we still can’t shake the feeling that the Raptors are unwanted houseguests overstaying their tenuous welcome at a very red-white-and-blue dinner party. The sense is we’re the annoying tag-along, rudely interrupting a dream Finals rematch between LeBron and Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors, or at least the star-powered Oklahoma City Thunder.
The fact that we seem to be playing against the refs as much as the Cavs certainly doesn’t help assuage our suspicions. Last night, for the first time in over six years, the Raps didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half. It’s as if the Cavs have been granted a carte blanche in this series. They can do no wrong. Meanwhile, when Biyombo met James with a Gandalf-worthy denial just before halftime, he was called for a very questionable foul — the second time in a many games he was penalized after a seemingly clean block on LeBron. And when fans protested the disparity in calls, some of them got ejected.
Maybe we’ve got our tinfoil hats on a little too tightly, but can you blame Toronto fans for thinking the fix is in? If the Raptors make the Finals, it guarantees about three more weeks of bad television ratings — at least in the U.S. Consider: the Raptors/Cavaliers series is the first NBA Conference Final to ever feature a Canadian team, and is also one of the lowest-rated Conference Finals in nearly a decade. Game 2, for instance, garnered 5.5 million viewers on ESPN Thursday night, down 20 per cent in viewership from last year’s Rockets/Warriors matchup, and 27 per cent from 2014’s Heat/Pacers.
Turns out American viewers aren’t terribly eager to watch Lowry and DeRozan do their thing, or catch the occasional shots of Jurassic Park going buck wild. Maybe the Raps are just too low profile for them, or maybe the thought of a Canadian team in the Finals just leaves a bad taste in their mouths. (See: the “U-S-A” chant Cleveland fans broke into at the end of Game 1).
Not that the Raptors give a shit. Like DeRozan noted after last night’s game, “We’ve been counted out all year. It’s nothing new to us.” So keep it up, Yankee media, refs, and general naysayers. You’re only fuelling this Northern Finger Wag. Unlike Dracula, the Raps don’t need an invitation to enter their opponents’ home and sink their teeth into them.
Now, to get you charged up for Game 5, here’s Stephen A. Smith making his ignorant-ass initial prediction ad infinitum.
— BarDown (@BarDown) May 16, 2016