Finally, for the first time in 15 years, the Toronto Raptors have advanced past the first-round of the NBA Playoffs. In an ugly, but good enough Game 7, the Raptors beat the Indiana Pacers 89-84. Their two leaders, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, were elated after the win, and a huge weight was lifted from their shoulders.
There’s a problem with that. A lot of athletes and teams in all different sports have let this kind of situation alter their ultimate goal. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win a championship. However, when a team fights as hard as the Raptors did to get over the hump, they tend to be content with their performance. When something has taken this long to achieve, it’s human nature to feel relaxed and happy that you finally did it.
This hump they got over isn’t the championship hump, it’s only the first round. DeRozan and Lowry, for the most part, played well below the level that they were playing on during the regular season. These two were only shooting around 30% for the series against the Pacers, and if that happens again, the Miami Heat will eat them alive. Shooting woes and mistakes were more forgivable against the Pacers because they weren’t as experienced, and they were in a rebuilding season. If they continue to give a huge array of chances and opportunities to the much more experience Heat, the series will go downhill faster than Usain Bolt running the 100.
On the other hand, there are some positives to take away from the first round that could prove why this mindset won’t set in. DeRozan and Lowry both knew that they weren’t playing well, and the fact that they still scrapped out a series win with their two best players struggling says a lot. DeMarre Carroll is back and playing some great defense. Norman Powell is proving to be a great contributor in only his rookie year, and Jonas Valanciunas looks even more motivated and scrappy as ever before. On top of all that, this stress relieving first round win could allow them to play freely.
The deciding factor, that will tell us if this team is ready to keep ascending to the next tier of teams, will be if they can avoid the content mindset.