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Lewenberg: Raptors go out fighting as their season ends

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Josh Lewenberg
5/5/2014 9:25:25 AM
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TORONTO - Kyle Lowry laid flat in the centre of the key, hands on his head as he stared straight up at the top of the Air Canada Centre, likely seeing nothing at all, having just missed the biggest shot of his eight-year career.

Although, technically it was not a shot. With their season on the line, the ball was in Lowry's hands, deservedly so.

The clock showed 6.2 seconds as the Raptors inbounded, trailing by only one in the dying moments of a deciding Game 7. Jason Kidd and his Nets' team had little doubt the ball would find Lowry. The star point guard caught the pass, with Deron Williams draped all over him, and went straight toward the rim as Kevin Garnett came over to trap. Lowry split the two defenders and floated a shot up at the basket just as Paul Pierce entered the fray in time to block it.

As the buzzer sounded, putting an end to Toronto's magical season, Lowry - the team's heart and soul - fell to the court.

What was going through his head?

"What's not?" he shot back.

DeMar DeRozan was the first one to come over. Crouching over the sprawled out Lowry, DeRozan offered up some words of encouragement.

"He said, 'If anyone is taking that shot, I'm living and dying with you taking it and trying to get that shot off,'" Lowry recounted after the Raptors' heartbreaking 104-103 Game 7 loss. "It was one of those things, a brotherly moment."

DeRozan helped the point guard up and the Raptors' two best players walked off the court - Lowry with his jersey over his face - to a rousing ovation from their appreciative fans.

"It was big time," Amir Johnson said of the scene. "Just them showing their appreciation, how well we did this season and how hard we worked. So it was a sad moment but bittersweet, I guess."

The Raptors couldn't hide their disappointment after falling just short of advancing to the Conference Semifinals Sunday afternoon, it was written all over their faces, but they have no reason to hang their heads. The sellout ACC crowd stood and chanted in salute of their team, the game - however frustrating - served as a good reminder of why.

With five minutes left, the Raptors appeared dead in the water. Frustrated and coming undone in the moment, down 10, their season was on life support but, like he's done so many times before, Dr. Lowry refused to let them die.

Lowry scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the final quarter and the Raptors came storming back. That resiliency has been their most admirable quality all year. They had led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring differential, earning 11 comeback wins, eight more than the season prior.

"We're going to fight until our last breath," said DeRozan after scoring 18 points, playing with the flu, as Casey revealed following the game. "We're going to leave it out there, every single thing we have there on the court."

"We battled," added Johnson, who recorded his first playoff double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out early in the fourth quarter. "I would go to war with these guys any day and they showed a lot of pride and a lot of heart tonight. We just ran out of time."

Lowry and his unwavering resolve have a lot to do with the team's late-game tenacity and so, with their season in the balance, they had no qualms with letting him decide their fate.

"That young man did everything he could to get to the basket," Casey said of Lowry on the final possession. It was what they had drew up, Lowry going to the rim, though it was a slight variation of what was intended, with poor spacing that ultimately led to the blocked shot. "He tried to will his way to get that extra point."

One point separated the teams Sunday and after 11 meetings - in the regular season and playoffs - Toronto and Brooklyn each scored 1,070 points. The series was as close as they come.

"We were right there," Casey pointed out, and if a few calls from another highly critiqued officiating crew went their way they may have pulled it out. But in the end, the Nets were the better team Sunday and that was the case, more often than not, throughout the series.

Joe Johnson - the best player on either side over the seven-game span - proved un-guardable again, scoring half of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, while the Raptors' youth and inexperience continued to rear its head.

Although Terrence Ross turned in his best game of the series, securing the steal that made Toronto's final possession possible, the bar had been set low. Fellow sophomore Jonas Valanciunas scored just three points to go along with five rebounds in one of the quietest outings of his brief career.

As a team, the Raptors wanted to go further, they believed they were ready and came just one play short of proving it. Even after the loss, with their season now over, the progress they've made does not go to waste. Three of their starters had never appeared in a playoff game. Only four players on their roster had ever experienced a Game 7, no one has emerged victorious from one. This experience is invaluable and can only serve them well, both individually and as a collective, going forward.

"I'm proud of our guys," Casey said. "Nobody gave them a snowballs chance in you know where to be here. They competed all year. This group has a lot of stuff in front of them, a lot of basketball in front of them. The organization is in a great spot."

"This playoff run is nothing but positive for these young men and anyone that thinks any different doesn't know basketball."

Kyle Lowry and Kevin Garnett (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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