23 days of Toronto Raptors history: Making the Eastern Conference Finals

Toronto Raptors - Bismack Biyombo (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Bismack Biyombo (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

We continue our “23 days of Toronto Raptors history” by remembering the Raptors’ 2016 playoff victory against the Miami Heat, earning the franchise’s first Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

The Toronto Raptors just won game seven against the Indiana Pacers. Typically a team would be filled with excitement and euphoria but it didn’t feel that way for the Raptors.

Toronto escaped. The number two seed in the Eastern Conference needed seven games to knock off the lowly Pacers. Despite the win, the whispers of playoff failures didn’t go away.

Up next was the Miami Heat. Led by Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade, Miami had a cast of hard-nosed veterans who excelled at grinding games out. They had a top-10 defense, played at one of the slowest paces in the league, and had a starting five with an average age above 30.

Unfortunately, they were missing their best player Chris Bosh. Bosh was sidelined with a heart condition which would eventually cost him his career.

Miami was the less talented team. But playoff experience and veteran leadership do count for something, and they had it in spades.

After a battle to get out of the first round, following two first-round exits, the pressure seemed to be mounting on Toronto. The term “choke” wasn’t quite being shouted yet, but it was being whispered.

With a less talented team, Miami made this series a slug-fest. Playoff series are typically played at a slower pace, but watching this series felt like watching syrup being poured in January.

The fastest team in the NBA last season was the New Orleans Pelicans at 103 possessions per game. The slowest was the Sacramento Kings at 97 possessions per game. This series, however,  was placed at a pace of 88 possessions per game.

The series teetered back-and-forth. Miami won game one. Toronto took games two and three. Miami recovered with a game four win.

Game five, in Toronto, the Raptors came out firing. A ten point first quarter lead allowed them to keep control throughout the game. Eventually they won by eight. With their backs against the wall, Miami would win game six, setting up a final winner-take-all game seven.

Toronto had the opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history with a win. A loss would only continue to feed into the “choking” narrative. It all depended on one game.

The first quarter was close. Toronto went up one. The second quarter was more of the same, and at halftime, the Raptors led by six. They continued to apply pressure in the third, increasing the lead just by two more. Heading into the fourth Toronto had a respectable, but not comfortable, eight point lead.

The floodgates opened in the fourth. The Raptors outscored the Heat 30-11 in the fourth quarter on their way to winning the game by 27.

For the first time in franchise history, Toronto had advanced past the second round. The choking narrative was dead (for now) and the team had finally lived up to expectations. Next was the Cleveland Cavaliers in a series most knew would be an up-hill battle.

Next. Ten best trades in Raptors history. dark

Checkout day 22 of our “23 days of Raptors history” tomorrow when we remember last season’s disappointing sweep at the hand of the Cavaliers.