Meeting with the media a little less than 24 hours before Game 7 will tip off, the Toronto Raptors sounded calm.
After the flight back to Toronto and a practice/film session to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, the Raptors had washed off the disappointment from their Game 6 loss.
Fully aware they didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to close out the Nets, the message for Sunday is clear: Get a win or spend a summer thinking about what wasn’t accomplished.
“[These] are lifetime moments,” Kyle Lowry said. “Game 7 is Game 7, no matter what round it’s in. It’s Game 7. It’s 3-3, win or go home. Either you’re going to the Bahamas or you’re going to the second round.”
While hanging out on the beach sounds pretty solid to most people, the Raptors roster and coaching staff would like to defer all vacation time until a later date.
Coming out flat in Brooklyn, the team is thankful that the deciding game will be played at the Air Canada Centre.
Much was made of the lack of postseason atmosphere in Barclays Center. Toronto players expect their fans to be on another level for Game 7.
“That’s why we finished as the third seed, obviously, in the East,” Greivis Vasquez said. “It doesn’t really get any better. This is what you dream about. That’s when you go play at the park, you think about Game 7 against those guys. It’s just fun. And at home. We’re playing at home. It’s not like we’re playing in Brooklyn in Game 7, we’re playing at home. So, talking about pressure, I think they have to feel the pressure, too.”
Veteran Chuck Hayes kept his advice to younger teammates simple: “You should be exhausted by the time the game is over with. You should be exhausted every timeout because the intensity is going to be risen, the atmosphere, everything. You probably won’t even be able to hear yourself think.”
For DeMar DeRozan, this is the moment he’s spent his life dreaming about. Growing up as a Lakers fan in Los Angeles, he remembers being 11 years old, watching the Lakers come from behind in a Game 7 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers to advance to the Finals.
“Honestly, this is what you live for, man,” DeRozan said. “To play and be in moments like this, because they last forever. Memories like that are going to last way after I’m finished playing so you’ve definitely got to take advantage of it and understand you’ve got to go out there and play you’re A-game.”
The experience of the Nets and the postseason-rookie status of many of the players on the Raptors roster has been a key storyline in this series. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey isn’t spending much time worrying about jitters affecting his team on Sunday.
“We want the passion,” Casey said. “We want the feelings. I don’t mind nerves because a couple of times up and down the floor you get hit, you get knocked down, those nerves go away. We’ve just got to come out with a stronger constitution out of the locker room. We did it in the last game we had here at home, Game 5…To Brooklyn’s credit they came out the way they were supposed to. They’re a veteran team they knew what was at stake and they punched first. They threw some haymakers at us and it took us a half to respond. We’ve got to understand what’s at stake coming out of the locker room and then continue for 48 minutes.”
Strong Start Essential
With both teams knowing Sunday could be their last game of the season, Casey is stressing the importance of hitting hard early.
“Whether it’s screening, boxing out, running to the floor, cutting to the basket, there was nothing hard about the way we came out [in Game 6] and we’re better than that,” Casey said. I know we’ve done a better job of doing that, we have done it and that’s what we’ve got to see tomorrow afternoon.”
Count Vasquez in for believing the Raptors will come out strong in their biggest test thus far.
“It’s going to be very emotional and it’s going to be very intense,” Vasquez said. “This crowd is the best crowd in the whole NBA. It gets really involved, and the city embraced the team. It’s a big-time thing for the city to embrace. The people here, the whole country is really into our style of play, the way we play. I feel like tomorrow is one of those games that we really have to prove ourself and send a message to the whole league.”
Lowry echoed Vasquez’s words, while also pointing out exactly why this young team is ready for their moment under the bright lights.
“Everything we’ve done from training camp, or the couple of weeks we were here before training camp [has prepared us],” Lowry said. “I think guys are really level-headed. We know what we’ve got to do, we’ve got a job to do and I think guys are just ready to play.”