Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors

Despite long odds, Raptors will 'continue to fight'

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Kyle Lowry (Getty Images)

CLEVELAND - Losing the first game is a relative wake-up call, no big deal, a call to tweak and adjust.

Losing the first two is urgent, something more troubling, a sense of one's playoff life flashing before one's eyes.

Losing four? It's oh-vah. Oh-four is 1, 2, 3, Cancun, "gone fishin'" and next season rolled into one.

That leaves an 0-3 deficit, which mostly is sad.

At 0-3, the story essentially has been written, a struggling team's fate decided. In the NBA, there is no wiggle room whatsoever - 129 teams in league playoff history have fallen behind 0-3 in a best-of-seven, 129 teams have lost those series. Only three such teams even rallied enough to force a Game 7: the 1951 Rochester Royals against New York, the 1994 Denver Nuggets against Utah and the 2003 Portland Trailblazers against Dallas.

And yet, nothing is official.

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Sure Not Now

The plug hasn't been pulled, flatline or not. That was evident Sunday when someone asked Toronto's Kyle Lowry one of those big-picture, assess-this-season questions.

"Our season ain't over yet," the Raptors point guard said, instinctively pushing back. "Ask me that question when it's over."

Narrator: It's over.

Most who stayed up late Saturday consider Toronto's series against the Cleveland Cavaliers to be over not only because they trail 0-3 but because of the way they got there. Specifically, LeBron James' unlikely, drive-left, shoot-right, one-footed bank shot at the buzzer that won it, 105-103. It enthralled the sellout crowd at Quicken Loans Arena, but appalled the Raptors' traveling party of three dozen or so.

Folks who care probably have watched the final play multiple times. The Raptors officially haven't watched it other than in real time. Coach Dwane Casey intentionally did not subject his players to a film session Sunday.

"We know what the issues are, what they were," Casey said after the team's light workout at the practice gym inside the Cavaliers' arena. "From a team standpoint, 17 turnovers broke our back. Some of our schematic things we didn't cover properly broke our back. The things that led up to the end of the game are what we need to clean up."

More precisely, it was the things that led up to the fourth quarter that cost Toronto. From that point, the Raptors were pretty good, outscoring the Cavaliers 38-26 while sinking seven of their 11 3-point shots. They got all the way back from a 14-point deficit in the quarter, tying at 103 only to have their hearts stomped on by James' spectacular finish.

Before that final quarter, though, Toronto was too reckless with the ball. It had missed 16 of its 22 from the arc. And one of its two All-Stars, wing DeMar DeRozan, had played his way to Casey's bench, with 3-of-12 shooting, unimpressive defense, a mere eight points and a minus-23 rating.

Casey' explanation for not putting DeRozan back in the game was simple: The guys he was using were rolling. It was a snapshot of the bottom-line approach he and his staff will need again in Game 4 Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, TSN Network).

DeRozan, naturally, doesn't want anything like it to happen again. This LeBron/Cleveland stuff has been heavy enough: nine consecutive playoff defeats, three straight postseasons being put out by the Cavaliers and, personally, the onus in this man's NBA of 2018 to be 0-for-16 from 3-point range in the 13 playoff games since 2016.

DeRozan didn't run from the lousy stew of frustration, anger, resignation and embarrassment he felt while his brothers kept plugging. As Saturday turned into Sunday - an "extremely long night," DeRozan said - the Raptors' leading scorer in 2017-18 (23.0 ppg) ruminated pretty good.

"It was rough. As a competitor, definitely rough," he said. "But I think it's something you carry over to today. Let it fuel you. ... I've had lots of [times] where I got down on myself. It's all about how you respond.

"There's really nothing much you can do, honestly, but watch the time go by. Wait for when the time comes to be able to get this feeling off you. And in order to get that feeling off you is to go back out there, help your teammates and get a win."

Lowry, asked how they would manage that, reduced his formula to one word. "Rumble," he said. "No matter what, you rumble. Rumble, young man, rumble."

Toronto did play with overdue physical force in Game 3 and will make that a priority again. Rookie OG Anunoby's individual defense on James has been solid, generally without overt double-teaming. Through the three games, though, the Raptors have committed 18 more fouls and 20 more turnovers, too many mistakes when losing Game 1 in overtime and Saturday by that single bucket.

Whenever it gets here for the Raptors, the summer is going to be longer than they'd hoped. So, going out strong does matter.

"You choose to continue to fight," Casey said of his players.

The Toronto coach recalled his days as an assistant in Seattle, when the SuperSonics fell behind 0-3 against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1996 Finals. Rather than fold, they won the next two games at home in the 2-3-2 format to force the series back to Chicago.

Said Casey: "Guys just made up their minds, 'We're not giving in. We're not quitting. We've got too much sweat equity.' We won the regular season conference title. Guys put in the work to get where they are. We've got a group of young players who committed to getting better and did.

"The easy thing to do is just to write us off and write ourselves off. But you choose to be a warrior. You choose to continue to fight."

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