TORONTO — DeMar DeRozan was speaking about automobiles.
“You ever had an previous Regal?” he requested, rhetorically, to a room stuffed with reporters.
A Buick Regal, he meant. An previous clunker. A beater. The form of automobile that has to cough and belch for a bit earlier than the engine involves life.
The Raptors guard continued the analogy concerning the previous Regal, after it has had a while to get from a rattle to one thing resembling a purr: “When you get going, then it could actually really feel like a 2016 Lexus?” he mentioned. “That’s simply us.”
The Toronto Raptors have coughed and belched off the beginning, as they have a tendency to do. They can’t for the lifetime of them win the primary recreation of a playoff sequence, having now dropped the opener in 9 straight first-round sequence with Saturday’s flat 97-83 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. They typically don’t begin video games effectively, both, having trailed after the primary half-dozen minutes of a recreation way more usually than they’re forward during the last two seasons.
It’s a downside that has plagued this workforce when they’re at full energy, when DeRozan was harm final yr and when Kyle Lowry was out this yr. It was a problem when the beginning lineup included Luis Scola, after which when it included Patrick Patterson and now that it has Serge Ibaka.
It’s, as coach Dwane Casey mentioned on Monday, “our largest thriller.”
Not that he hasn’t tried to unravel it.
“We’ve accomplished all the things,” he mentioned. “We’ve seemed on the numbers, statistics, matchups, rotations, teams that had been in there…” and the coach trailed off a bit of, in that approach that you just type of throw up your arms whenever you’ve seemed and seemed on the proof and haven’t discovered any form of helpful revelation.
Like, if they may determine the precise downside, they might have mounted it by now.
“It’s in our DNA,” Casey mentioned. “Gradual begins and arduous finishes.”
To Ibaka, who has solely been right here for 2 months, it’s simply as a lot of a thriller.
“I don’t know why,” he mentioned of Toronto’s poor early play. He mentioned that everyone appeared able to carry playoff depth, and because the most playoff-savvy participant on the Raptors — with greater than 90 post-season video games on his resume — he would know.
However then, Saturday occurred. The Raptors had been down by seven factors to the Bucks about midway by way of the primary quarter, and by the point that first body completed, they had been down eight. Toronto, which has performed very sturdy defence because the late arrival of Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, as an alternative gave up 30 first-quarter factors to a younger Bucks workforce taking part in in a loud and hostile setting.
As he contemplated this on Monday, Ibaka, in his fantastic accented English, grew to become considerably philosophical: “Generally, I ask myself why?” he mentioned. “Why?
“Perhaps you guys can inform us,” he mentioned to the roomful of media.
But when there’s a little little bit of solace to be discovered for the Raptors in the truth that they usually begin video games, and sequence, slowly, it’s that no less than they know what to do now.
“For no matter purpose, we’re higher with our backs in opposition to the wall,” Casey mentioned Monday.
Toronto got here again to win extra video games by which they had been trailing by double digits than every other workforce within the NBA this season, a statistic DeRozan cited on Monday when he wasn’t holding forth on previous clunkers. That is, admittedly, a reality about which the Raptors can solely be considerably proud. The perfect groups within the league — Golden State, San Antonio — don’t have as many huge comeback wins as Toronto just because they don’t fall behind by many factors fairly often.
However Casey was right when he famous that, as a minimum, the Raptors’ skill to come back again says one thing about rising to the problem. It’s true inside video games, and it’s true in sequence, the place the Raptors had each alternative to fold after shedding the opener final yr to Indiana after which to Miami, and after getting blown out within the opening two video games in Cleveland. Then managed to make good fights out of all of them, successful a few sequence alongside the way in which.
If something, success has been Toronto’s largest foe within the playoffs: anytime they began asserting themselves final yr, they gave the sting proper again with one other puzzling loss.
So maybe it’s for one of the best that the workforce has no edge left to concede. That they had their likelihood to make this sequence simple, however that chance is previous. It’s a battle now. Which is form of their factor.
“It’s taxing,” mentioned Casey. “It’s arduous in your physique.”
“We all know what it takes,” DeRozan mentioned.
And so, the Raptors should come from behind, if they’re to comprehend the promise that this lineup possesses. Even with the brand new guys on the town, they’re again in the identical spot. Hi there desperation, my previous buddy.
“That’s a tough approach to reside,” Casey mentioned.
It’s that. However the Raptors live that approach. Once more.