A typical scene on the Raptors' bench early this season: Johnson stares blankly into the middle distance, Butler checks the clock to see when the pain will end, Gray tends to a throbbing headache, and Bargnani wonders what colour suit he should wear for the next game.
At barely four months, the season that ended today seemed like it only began yesterday…and yet, there were times when it felt like it would never end. In fact, the Toronto Raptors’ 2011-2012 season is best described by paraphrasing Charles Dickens: It was the shortest of seasons, it was the longest of seasons.
And if you’ll humour me a bit, I’d like to keep the literary theme going, and take a look back at the 2012 campaign month by month, to see if we can examine it like a series of classic novels. After all, the Raptors managed to cover just about all the genres this year: horror, suspense, comedy, mystery…a bit of everything. So grab your pencil and start taking notes, because this will all be on the final test.
Month 1: Great Expectations
When the season finally began, there was a sense of optimism in the air. We had a new coach, fresh off a championship in Dallas, who was going to teach the team how to play defence. We won the first game of the season, and early on we were sitting pretty at 3-3. Bargnani was pouring in the points, playing like an all-star:
But like any good novel, once the characters were established and the mood was set, we arrived at second stage of the plot, just like you learned in English class: conflict. Bargnani got hurt. The losses started to pile up. And month two brought with it the winter of the Raptors’ discontent.
Month 2: Hard Times
February was not kind to the Raptors. They lost 9 of 13 games, including back-to-back heartbreakers courtesy of Kobe Bryant and Jeremy Lin. With Derozan opting out of the dunk contest, Toronto went completely unrepresented at the all-star weekend in Orlando. Bargnani continued to sit out, and the only Raptor who was playing well on a consistent basis was first-round pick Jonas Valanciunas. In Lithuania. And then, on February 17th, the Raptors hit rock-bottom:
In a game that was grittier than the gutters of Dickensian London, not only did the Raptors manage to break Charlotte’s 16-game losing streak, but they did it on “Fan Appreciation Night” at the ACC. The season was starting to develop enough tragic irony to make Shakespeare jealous.
Month 3: A Tale Of Two Cities
Like the French peasantry in Dickens’ most renowned novel, basketball fans in Toronto were demoralized by this point in the season. However, just like in pre-revolutionary France, the winds of change were in the air. And those winds ended up blowing Leandro Barbosa right out of town on Deadline Day. Things were back and forth as spring came to Toronto; a satisfying overtime win against Memphis lifted our spirits…and a second loss to the Bobcats brought us back to earth.
(Side note: why did Memphis borrow the Oakland A’s uniforms for this game?)
Like the two cities in the title of Dickens’ classic, there were two versions of the Raptors: the one that could excite you, and the one that frustrated you. There were two point guards: the one who knew how to defend, and the one who knew how to pass. Questions about how best to prepare for next year brought the realization that the season’s end was just around the corner.
Month 4: Oliver Twist
Is there any character in the history of literature more deserving of sympathy than Oliver Twist? Taken advantage of by the rich and powerful, mistreated, stepped on, overlooked. As the 2011-2012 NBA regular season comes to a close, and the league’s wealthier, more talented, better-loved teams move into the playoffs, I can’t help but see my beloved Raptors as the Oliver Twist of the basketball world.
As the league’s bourgeoisie geared up for the post-season by making big trades or signing free agents, the proletariate Raptors quietly gave lesser-known players a chance to play- Uzoh, Anderson, Dentmon…NBA orphans who woudn’t have a chance anywhere else.
Have the Raptors shown improvement? The question was on the minds of all fans over the season’s final month, and we all desperately wanted the answer to be “yes”. We wanted our little Oliver Twist to find a better lot in life. Certainly, many numbers would suggest that the team improved this year. Admittedly, they would’ve had to try pretty hard to be worse than last year, but there really did seem to be a bit more of a fighting spirit this season, summarized wonderfully by Raptors Republic:
What used to be listless blowouts under Triano have turned into either respectable defeats, or outings where they’ve hung around long enough for the miserable, suffering fan to say, “Hmm, I guess that’s better, or an improvement at least…let’s see what else is on TV”.
And, as difficult as this season was, part of me doesn’t want it to be over.
Part of me wants to go back to the ACC tomorrow, to see if Ed Davis has gotten any tougher. To see if Calderon can handle another 47 minutes of playing time without evaporating from exhaustion. To see if Jamaal Magloire will hit a free-throw.
I’m a sucker for punishment, a Raptor fan for life, and like little Oliver Twist, I stand here at the end of the season, my empty bowl in my hands, saying, “please, sir, I want some more.”
You’re darn right I want some more. See you next year.