The Toronto Raptors closed out the Indiana Pacers, 89-84, on Sunday night, winning their first Game 7 in franchise history and winning their first playoff seres since 2001.
“I dare say had they lost, there may have been franchise-altering moves,” Raptors radio voice Paul Jones said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “And it’s significant because they broke the longest current losing streak of losing series in the NBA. Somebody said, ‘Oh, the monkey’s off their back.’ Heck, it was a whole zoo that they took off their back.”
The Raptors have made the playoffs six times since 2001. They lost in the first round five times, including each of the last two years.
Not this year.
“I’m happy for Dwane Casey because he’s built this – as he likes to call, a program – from 23 to 34 to 48 to 49 and now 56 wins this year,” Jones said. “And everybody kept saying, ‘Yeah, but what are you doing in the playoffs?’ And then finally won a round.”
Five Raptors finished in double figures, including DeMar DeRozan, who scored a game-high 30 points.
“He played free,” Jones said. “I thought they did a nice job of getting him the ball where he didn’t have to beat somebody with the dribble. He made some terrific moves, hit some really big shots. There’s an old adage in the biggest games that your best players need to be your best players – and he was one of their best players tonight, no question.”
Toronto will face Miami in the second round. The Raptors host Game 1 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
“I think you’re going to see a team play a lot more relaxed right now,” Jones said. “The intense pressure of continuous losses in the first round – you have no idea how that weighed on the franchise. There was a tweet after Indiana beat them in Game 4 by one of our local sportswriters, and it was terrific: ‘Raptors trail series 2-2.’ Everybody thought this thing is over, they can’t win. It’s like, the series is tied. It’s not the end of the world, but the immense pressure that’s been lifted now, I think you’re going to see a team that’s playing much freer and much more relaxed going forward in this series against Miami.”
Jones, who has covered the team since its inception in 1995, firmly believes the streak affected the current players – even though they didn’t have much to do with it.
“You can’t help it,” Jones said. “It’s like playing for the Yankees. You know who Babe Ruth is. You play for the Lakers, you know how Kobe is, you know who Kareem is, you know who Magic is. You play for the Sixers, you know who Dr. J is. The history follows you. So they weren’t here, but they know what was going on – and it’s been a huge weight lifted off their back.”