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Toronto Raptors lament playoff exit but see bright future ahead for team

May 27, 2016 - 10:08 PM

TORONTO - Asked how his body felt after a gruelling playoff run, DeMarre Carroll looked at his questioner and asked "How long are you here for?"

"This has been one of my roughest, but best in the blessing-wise, seasons," said the Toronto Raptors forward.

Pain and hope marked the end of the Raptors' season Friday night.

A knee injury limited the six-foot-eight, 218 pound Carroll to just 20 games in the regular season. He matched that total in the playoffs and was clearly hurting. In the wake of the Raptors' season-ending 113-87 loss to Cleveland, Carroll was wearing a massive icebag on his elbow.

Carroll, who admitted to "hurting all over," was gracious in defeat after losing the Eastern Conference finals four games to two.

"Your hat goes off to them," he said of the Cavaliers. "There's a couple of things that we could have done better tonight to force a Game 7 but we didn't do it. At the end of the day, man, we've just got to keep our heads high. This is the first time we've ever been here as a team. We've got to look forward to a bright future."

By going deep into the playoffs after a 56-win regular season, the Raptors reached uncharted territory. When they were good, they were very good. And when they were bad, they were very bad.

They are not the only ones. This NBA post-season has featured a string of blowouts with teams bouncing up and down like a yo-yo.

"We have accomplished a lot of things people said we couldn't accomplish — except for the guys in this locker-room that believed each and every night," said centre Bismack Biyombo.

"At the end of the day we're closer to our goal and we've just got to go into summertime and think on how we're going to improve and how we can get better," he added. "Because at the beginning of this series, everybody thought it was going to be 4-0. Of course, we surprised people."

Added forward Patrick Patterson: "We're almost there. We've still got a ways to go but we're climbing that ladder. We're getting closer to where we want to be."

But asked what went wrong in Game 6, he came up with a long list.

"Transition. Offensive rebounding. Not stopping our man one-one. Not hitting shots on the offensive end. So much."

With Carroll hurting and centre Jonas Valanciunas sidelined for a chunk of the post-season with an ankle injury, Toronto was outgunned by Cleveland.

Like the Blue Jays, the Raptors came within two wins of a championship series. And there was a love-in with both teams along the way.

Seats seemed optional for much of the series against the Cavaliers. The fans at Air Canada Centre stood in Game 6 and were as loud in the fourth quarter when their team trailed by 20-plus as they were at the beginning of the game.

"Unbelievable atmosphere," Cleveland star LeBron James said.

Biyombo was at the heart of the love affair. Toronto fans fell for the charismatic shot-blocker from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The crowd has been very supportive to us," said Biyombo, who stayed on the court to show his appreciation. "This is the first year that I've really felt like I was in a place where the fans have loved us 100 per cent. They support us 100 per cent, throughout the whole season, ups and downs."

The 23-year-old answered questions in English, French and Spanish — he also speaks Swahili and Linga.

He said he would like to be back in Toronto next season, but a player option and an expected huge pay hike may price him out of the Raptors' range.

"I love it here," he said.

There was also gratitude from rookie Norman Powell — to the Raptors for giving him a chance to fulfil his dream to play in the NBA and to the fans for making the experience special.

And now he will be able to ditch the Disney princesses backpack he had to cart around all season as a rookie.

"I kind of got used to it but I think I'm going to give it to my Mom," he said. "She'll like that."

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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