Magic Confident Going Into Game 1

Raptors have history of struggling in playoff Game 1s
by John Denton

TORONTO – With three-fifths of the Toronto Raptors’ starting lineup being in their first season with the franchise, they likely don’t know a lot about the infamous playoff history of Game 1s in Canada.

If needed, Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross – a member of the Raptors for 4 ½ seasons from 2012-17 would be more than happy to fill them in on the eve of today’s Game 1 between the Magic and Raptors.

In their playoff history, the Raptors are just 2-13 in Game 1s. Incredibly, the franchise went from a Game 1 win in 2001 until last spring’s opening-game defeat of the Washington Wizards without winning a Game 1 – a skid of 10 straight series-opening losses. Then, in the postseason’s second round last spring, Toronto lost yet another Game 1 – again to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers – and were summarily swept out of the playoffs.

Ross, who was in Toronto for five of the Game 1 losses, is hopeful that that curse continues later today when his seventh-seeded Magic face the second-seeded Raptors at 5 p.m. (TV: Fox Sports Florida/ESPN) at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.

``I don’t know if they’ve psyched themselves out or the media up there has put too much pressure on them, but we can for sure go in there and sneak one out on them,’’ Ross said of his Magic potentially winning today’s Game 1. ``That’s our mission right now – win one in Toronto and come back (to Orlando) and make it a longer series.’’

Following last spring’s playoff collapse, Toronto dramatically remade the look of its team. First, the franchise fired reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and replaced him with high-energy assistant Nick Nurse as head coach. Then, Toronto took a gamble on mercurial forward Kawhi Leonard, trading away franchise fixture DeMar DeRozan for the former Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. An oft-overlooked part of that transaction was the acquisition of shooting guard Danny Green, a former champion with the San Antonio Spurs and one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters.

Another new starter, center Marc Gasol, came to Toronto via a trade deadline deal on Feb. 7. Gasol, who has helped the Raptors more with his passing (3.9 assists) and 3-point shooting (44.2 percent) than his scoring (9.9 points) in his 26 games (19 starts), said he could care less about Toronto’s history of struggles in the playoffs, particularly in Game 1s. The only playoff experience that matters to Gasol is the 59 games and six trips he made to the postseason over a seven-year period from 2010-17 while playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.

``It’s irrelevant what’s happened in the past,’’ said Gasol, who will be tasked with trying to slow down Orlando all-star center Nikola Vucevic – something he’s had success doing in the past. ``It’s about Game 1 against the Magic and we’ll go from there. First quarter, jump ball and then let’s go. And after Game 1 we’ll make adjustments to Game 2. One game at a time until we get to 16 (victories for a championship) – that’s all that really matters.

``If you do that, it’s a lot easier to process than trying to think about what’s happened in past years with past teams; it’s irrelevant,’’ Gasol added. ``We’re going all out from Game 1.’’

That’s the same plan the Magic will have, and head coach Steve Clifford doesn’t think his team will be intimidated by being on the road for the start of the playoffs. Clifford, a veteran of 19 NBA seasons, knows a fast start on the road can completely change the temperature of a Game 1, but he insisted that it’s not absolutely imperative to a Magic team that has been solid all season while playing in front of hostile crowds.

``I mean, you want to get off a to good start every game, but obviously you’re not going to do that every game,’’ said Clifford, whose Orlando squad was 2-2 on the season versus the Raptors and was one of just seven NBA teams to beat Toronto twice. ``Would I like for us to play from ahead? Absolutely.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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