Going into Game 5 against the Brooklyn Nets, the Toronto Raptors are convinced they remain the underdogs.
While their fan base has proven their passion to basketball fans worldwide — and impressed TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who has been on the Raptors bandwagon since the postseason started — players aren’t acting like they have arrived.
“People doubt us and think we can’t do it, that’s what gets us energized,” Amir Johnson said. “That’s when we prove ‘em wrong.”
It could be argued that Toronto no longer holds underdog status. Tied 2-2 against a tough, veteran Nets squad, the Raptors have proven they earned their third-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Despite being the higher seed and owning home court in their matchup against the Nets, the Raptors know what the expectations were coming into the series.
“We understand coming into the series people still counted us out,” DeRozan said. “People still doubted us. People said Brooklyn’s experienced, this that and the third, whatever you want to hear. And we took heed to that. We understand we still have to play with a chip on our shoulder because we haven’t done anything in this league.”
Fans Doing Their Part
Now that the series has essentially turned into a best-of-3 challenge, Toronto is shifting its mindset and sharpening its focus.
“We’re coming closer and closer to the end of the series,” DeRozan said. “First team to win two now. We’ve got to understand that we can’t drop a game and understand if we get the next one, if we drop a game, it’s either win or go home. We’ve got to keep that mentality next game, play again like we did when we were down.”
Picking up a crucial Game 4 victory in Brooklyn thanks to a gutsy fourth quarter, Toronto showed grit.
Led by the inspired play of point guard Kyle Lowry, the team displayed a resilience that it hopes to carry over into Game 5.
“We’ve got 15 guys who are tough,” Lowry said. “I think everyone’s toughness has brought a collective group of toughness. Me, I’m just going out there and doing my job. I go out there and play hard and give it my all every night. I think my teammates, they see that and they do the same thing. When I see my teammates [giving it their all] I’m going to do the same thing.”
Despite a banged-up knee, split lip and bruised elbow, Lowry said he would be good-to-go come Wednesday night.
“I don’t think you pace yourself in the playoffs,” Lowry said. “I think we all go out there and give it your all. That’s why you’ve got subs. You go out there, you get exhausted, someone comes in to relieve you then you come back in when you get your second wind.”
The support back in Toronto while they were on the road provided an extra boost of energy.
“Our core fan base has been unbelievable,” Casey said. “First year I was here, we were a rebuilding team. They were still here. They were wanting wins yesterday, but they were still here supporting the team. The other day, they were unbelievable as far as their passion, being into the game for 48 minutes. The group outside was unbelievable. We’ve got to do our part. The fans are doing their part.”
Recognizing how close the second round is, Toronto is focused.
With fans certain to be on their best behaviour — both inside and outside the arena — and the team knowing what’s at stake, the message is simple.
“Its just who wants it more from here on out,” DeRozan said. “That’s just what it boils down to. Who wants it more.”