While recent memory thinks of the Cleveland Cavaliers as their ultimate kryptonite, their storied slump extends even beyond the last few years, as former Brooklyn Nets clutch artist Paul Pierce was the grim reaper slicing up their hopes only five seasons ago.
“That’s a pretty interesting stat, isn’t it?” Pierce said, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, recalling the series, which spelled a quick exit for Toronto, despite the home court advantage. “They got tight, you could feel it.”
Prior to the start of the 2014 playoffs, president Masai Ujiri had taken the podium at a Raptors playoff rally and exclaimed “F**k Brooklyn” to the masses, only to be fined $25,000 by the league for improper language and see Pierce mercilessly take it all away with a clutch jumper.
“The atmosphere in Toronto for playoff games is incredible; what you see on TV doesn’t do it justice,” Pierce said, looking back. “You have to be there to feel it.
But you know, nobody respected the Raptors, even on their home court. If you got the Raptors in the playoffs, it was nothing to fear. It was a matchup I always wanted.”
These 2017-18 Raptors will try to change the narrative — holding the No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history and with a team built to go deep into the playoffs.
“I can’t explain it. Actually, it’s ridiculous,” said point guard Kyle Lowry.
“Look, we’ve been trash in these Game 1s, and I don’t have a clue why. I’ve thought about it,” said his frontcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.
“I don’t know, man. And it gets in your head, and every series it got worse,” said former Raptor DeMarre Carroll, who experienced five Game 1 losses in his tenure with the team.
Head coach Dwane Casey is also looking to put a stop to it, knowing the gutting feeling of always starting a series having to rally to win.
“It sounds trite, I know, but to give up your home-court advantage year after year is disappointing,” Casey said.
Boasting a franchise-best 59-23 record this season, the hope in Toronto is to put an end to Game 1 misery and do so soundly against a Washington Wizards team that also took part in keeping that ominous streak alive in 2015.