By Jack Maidment
After playing with the kind of lethargy normally associated with a morgue employee, the Toronto Raptors found themselves in a familiar 21-6 hole early against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon.
They were doing everything they were supposed to: not playing defense, not making shots, not really doing much of anything.
Just as advertised.
The offensively challenged Lakers proceeded to pour in 34 points in the first quarter, a season high for an opponent of the Raptors. Oh, and Kobe was scoreless.
What happened next was deeply surprising and for those who doubt the veracity of the Mayan 2012 prophecy perhaps a little worrying.
The Raptors gave the Los Angeles Lakers a game. An actual game with lead changes and everything. Unbelievable.
Toronto have been in the NBA basement for so long that writers could feel confident copy and pasting season projections for years: Replace Bosh with Barnani, Carter with DeRozan, cap up the word ‘soft’.
But on Sunday lunchtime the Raptors did something new. They showed some heart. They fought.
The old Raptors would have thrown in the towel; hopelessly out matched and outclassed by NBA royalty.
But this time they dug in and found a way, clawing back an 18 point deficit over three quarters and actually going ahead with under a minute to play on a Jose Calderon jump shot from the free throw line.
Nobody thought the point guard’s shot was going in. He may have been in the midst of a career night, he scored 30 points, but nobody in the Air Canada Centre thought he was actually going to sink it; that’s what years of perpetual losing will do for a fan base.
But he did.
And if the Lakers didn’t have a player who can consistently make fadeaway 18ft baseline double-teamed jump shots the Raptors would have tasted an improbable victory.
Despite the loss, 94-92, the Raptors and their fans should be encouraged by the performance.
They have had close losses before, plenty in fact, but this one felt different. This one felt real, like they actually had a chance.
If you google news search Raptors+heart you get 90 results. And most of those also include the words ‘lack of’.
If there is any justice in the world that should change after their monumental come back on Sunday.
Their roster may be… interesting, and a little short on elite NBA talent, but team basketball and belief can be great equalisers.
Just ask the Knicks.
(On a similar, but unrelated note, I felt the need to share this quote. It’s great: “You got two minutes, you have Kobe Bryant on the floor, you have Pau and Drew on the floor. What is there to really worry about except play hard and win the game?” Ron Artest.)