Masai Ujiri Feels There’s ‘No Question’ Cavs-Raptors Would’ve Been Different If Toronto Won Game 1

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The Toronto Raptors had the best regular season in franchise history during the 2017-18 campaign, but the ending was all too familiar. For the third straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers bounced them out of the playoffs.

The latest sweep at the hands of the Cavs indicated to the Raptors front office that some changes were needed. They began shortly after the series ended with the firing of Dwane Casey, despite him being voted Coach of the Year by his peers. Whether that’s the last major move (along with the impending hire of a new coach) or not this summer is up to president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.

There have been many wondering if the Raptors might consider making a major roster move and look to deal one of their star players in either Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Ujiri joined ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft Combine on Thursday to discuss this summer and look back at the series that ended their season. In that interview, Adrian Wojnarowski asked him if watching the Cavs struggle in the first round and again going down 0-2 to Boston made the Raptors sweep more frustrating.

Ujiri admitted it did, and also pointed to the disastrous collapse in Game 1 against Cleveland as totally changing the vibe around the team that they never shook for the remainder of the series.

Ujiri: Yes, to me, it was disappointing for us. I’m a black and white guy. This is the truth, it was disappointing. That’s the thin line in the NBA. That’s the margin right there, and that Game 1 loss hurt us. It was very disappointing for us, and whatever the cause was, it took a turn and we couldn’t just get it back.

Jay Bilas: Is there even a thought of, if one of those close in stick backs goes in in Game 1 you’re looking at a totally different series and a different reaction from your team overall?

Ujiri: No question. But I again, as the leader of the organization I have to look at the last five years and where we’ve come. So the assessment is not just four games, honestly. It’s the five years and where we’ve come and where does it go. So the loss is unfortunate, but I’m not a reaction person like that. I really have to evaluate from that time to now and the future as well.

It was fairly evident that the Game 1 loss had an adverse effect on Toronto’s mindset going forward, but it is interesting to hear it admitted as much by Ujiri. While he notes a different Game 1 outcome may have produced a different series and outcome, he’s insistent that one game and one series wasn’t the reason for the Raptors swift reaction in firing Casey.

While that may be true and they may have had concerns that under Casey this group had stalled out entering that series, it’s hard to imagine the way they lost that series was a significant factor in it all. Whomever takes over the Raptors job will have to keep the same level of regular season of success while figuring out how to unlock the next level in the postseason, and part of that will be changing the mentality of a team that seems to get down on itself when things go wrong.