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Lewenberg: Raptors prepare for series finale on TSN, TSN 1050

Josh Lewenberg
5/4/2014 9:44:13 AM
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TORONTO - It's been 13 years since the Raptors played in their last and only Game 7, by all accounts the biggest game in franchise history to this point.

Philadelphia-native Kyle Lowry remembers it well.

"Hell of a game," recalled Lowry, who was a 15-year-old high schooler when he watched the epic battle between Vince Carter and Allen Iverson, culminating in Carter's missed jumper and Toronto's Game 7 loss in 2001. "I was a fan back then, of the other team. But it was a great game, a great game."

A year earlier, DeMar DeRozan - 10 at the time, growing up in Southern Los Angeles - watched his favourite team, the Lakers, overcome a 15-point deficit to knock off the Trailblazers in the deciding game of the 2000 Conference Finals. To this day, it is still his most memorable Game 7 moment.

"I remember watching it," said the Raptors' all-star guard. "Even then I remember saying, 'I wish I was playing in a moment like that', because it just seemed fun, especially when you're doing something you love to do. That's the highest level of basketball you could play in, man."

On Sunday afternoon they'll have the opportunity to write their own story when Toronto hosts the Brooklyn Nets in the finale of their opening-round series.

You can catch all of the action live on TSN, TSN GO and TSN Radio 1050 with pre-game coverage kicking off at 12:30pm et/9:30am pt with Rod Black and Leo Rautins on TSN and with Jim Tatti, Duane Watson, Gareth Wheeler and Josh Lewenberg on a special two-hour edition of Countdown to Tip-off at 11:00 AM on TSN 1050. Tatti, Watson, Wheeler and Lewenberg will return with an extended post-game show following the game. TSN.ca's coverage includes in-game highlights and live streaming of the fan festivities at Maple Leaf Square during the game as well as the post-game news conferences.

"Honestly, this is what you live for, man," said DeRozan, the Raptors' leading scorer, averaging 24.8 points in his first career playoff series. "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 Raptors, up 3-2 going into Game 6, failed to close out the series in Brooklyn Friday after the Nets got off to a commanding start, earning a wire-to-wire 97-83 win in the face of elimination.

The two teams have gone blow for blow all season long, splitting their 10 meetings. In 40 quarters, 480 minutes, the Raptors have scored just one point more than the opposing Nets.

Now, it'll come down to one final game, four quarters, 48 minutes between two evenly matched foes with very different backstories.

Toronto players have made just seven appearances in Game 7s, losing all seven, all of them on the road. Meanwhile, the Nets have 27 games of experience in this situation. Paul Pierce alone has played in more Game 7s than the Raptors roster.

Lowry, the only Raptors' starter to play in a Game 7, and his Houston Rockets were dismantled in the Western Conference Semifinals, losing to the Lakers by 19 points in 2009. "We got the s--- beat out of us," he said of his lone Game 7 experience.

Greivis Vasquez, a rookie with the Grizzlies in 2011, lost by 15 in Oklahoma City during the final game of the semi's. Chuck Hayes and John Salmons both have a couple Game 7 defeats on their resume, Tyler Hansbrough has one.

To say they have something to prove is probably an understatement.

"This game will go down in memory or in history," said the veteran Hayes. "It could be one of your great performances, a so-so performance but people will always remember a Game 7. So how do you want to be remembered?"

The Nets, on the other hand, were built for this moment. They are the most expensive NBA team ever assembled, a roster loaded with perennial all-stars and future hall of famers. As such, the pressure is on them to deliver.

"We ain't got no 100 million, whatever payroll they got," said DeRozan. "Hey, that's all on them. We understand what we have to do and we're going to go out there wanting it. At the end of the day they have more to lose than us."

The spotlight is fixated on them and they know it. After guaranteeing a victory ahead of Game 6, Nets' forward Andray Blatche had no problem doubling down.

"We guarantee it," Blatche said after Friday's win. "We're gonna go there, take care of business and go to Miami."

Although the Raptors have carried themselves with a quiet confidence throughout the series, refusing to get caught up in an extra curricular war of words, they did not take kindly to Blatche's pre-game acceptance speech.

"I don't know who does he think he is," said Vasquez, asked about Blatche's comments after Saturday afternoon practice at the Air Canada Centre. "He's not [Kevin Garnett] or Paul Pierce or Jason Kidd. We're not going to listen to his nonsense. He gotta earn that, and he hasn't yet."

"I don't care what he said," DeRozan added. "He can say what he wants, honestly. He can go out there and say he's going to hit the lottery tomorrow, I could give a hell."

That animosity - natural in any long playoff series - has been building for over two weeks and will come to a head Sunday.

All season long, the Raptors and their mix of youth and discarded veterans have been an unlikely success story. On Sunday they'll all have a couple things in common. From one end of the bench to the other, they'll all be playing the most important game of the careers, looking to accomplish something none of them have before, striving to move on and continue to defy the odds.

"These are lifetime moments," 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."

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