Toronto Raptors: 5 most important games in team history

Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors celebrate his series-clinching shot.2019-05-12 Kawhi Leonard2
Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors celebrate his series-clinching shot.2019-05-12 Kawhi Leonard2 /
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Toronto Raptors
TORONTO, ON – MAY 15: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Tough times ahead. While the Toronto Raptors have lately enjoyed by far the most successful era in team history, this past season along with the foreseeable future is likely to take a downturn.

The 2021-22 Raptors have plenty going for them, but as far as historic games go, we may have to wait a while.

In the meantime, we can look back at the gems of the past. Which games had the highest stakes, the most iconic moments, and the most impact on the franchise going forward? Let’s dive in.

Honourable mentions:

Game 5 vs. The Knicks 2001 (1st time reaching the second round)

Game 5 vs. The Heat 2016 (double OT to swing the series)

Game 4 vs. The Cavaliers 2018 (ending the DeRozan era)

Game 6 vs. The Warriors 2019 (winning the title)

5 most important games in Raptors history.

Game 7 vs. The Heat, 2016 (reaching the ECF)

Remember back to 2016. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had each had career years statistically and had led the team to the second seed in the East, blowing the doors off the Raptor’s single-season wins record in the process.

Still, the playoffs were a different animal. This iteration of the Toronto Raptors had made the post-season the past two seasons, but had been knocked out of the first round both times. While inching past the Pacers in 7 games had already taken this Raptors team farther than ever before, they were now facing a different animal.

This was the Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat. Really Wade’s last year as an all-star level player, the Heat had molded themselves around the mantra of grit and savvy, boasting a talented and well-constructed roster of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, and their star in Wade.

The Raptors prevailed against the Heat.

So even while the Raptors had more wins, more talent, more this, more that, the two teams walked into this series as equals.

The series went an ugly seven games. Each team lost their starting centers to injury, fought through four collective overtimes, half-court game-tying shots, fights, and either their playoff inexperience or the creaking of old bones.

With Justise Winslow and Bismack Biyombo now starting at center walking into this game, both sides were ready to crush the other, and after the first half, it didn’t look like either was giving an inch. Joe Johnson got hot in the second quarter going 4/4 from the field, and while DeRozan had 15 points he was taking a ton of shots to get there (6/17).

The script flipped in the second half. Lowry, who already lead all scorers with 16 at the half, erupted for a 12-point third quarter. The Heat held on at first, but by the fourth, it was just too much. The Raptors started firing on all cylinders, and the series was done in a blowout.

89. 110. 116. 81. Final

This game was the Raptors’ official coming-out party. They had made the playoffs before but this was their induction into the realm of title contention, a station they would stay in for the next five years.

The Lowry and DeRozan era technically started in 2013, but in a lot of ways, this was the beginning.  This was their “basketball bar mitzvah”.  When they moved up from the little leagues and became legit.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that they got beat by the eventual champion Cavaliers in the East Finals. Because the Raptors won the title in 2019, fans can look back at this underwhelming peak fondly. The first of two apexes for the greatest stretch of basketball Toronto has ever seen.