Toronto: Toronto Raptors` fairytale season ended when they were eliminated from the playoffs after a 103-104 loss to Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 of their first-round NBA playoffs.
"I`m proud of our guys, the way they battled the entire year," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey after the team`s final game of the 2013-14 campaign Sunday, reports Xinhua.
At the beginning of the season, expectations were low for Casey`s Raptors, a team that had not reached the post-season in six attempts and appeared destined for a top pick in the upcoming NBA draft lottery.
A total of 19 games into the season, Toronto`s chances of ending their playoff drought appeared gloomy with a 7-12 record in early December. Everything changed for Casey`s squad when general manager Masai Ujiri orchestrated a seven-player trade that featured forward Rudy Gay moving to Sacramento Dec 9.
In return, Toronto acquired four veteran players in Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons to give the bench much needed depth. The loss of Gay meant Toronto`s starting line-up would feature sparingly used sophomore, Terrence Ross. Along with Ross, sophomore-centre Jonas Valanciunas, guard Kyle Lowry, forwards Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan rounded off Toronto`s starting five.
Despite the lack of experience and the possibility of more trades to come, the new-look Raptors did not give up. The resilient group went on an 8-3 run immediately after the trade to reach the .500 mark (15-15) and move into first place in the Atlantic division.
As the season progressed, Raptors continued their turnaround with the same starting line-up, finishing with a franchise-best 48-34 record, good for third place in the Eastern Conference. Not only did Casey`s squad exceed expectations of many experts from the start of the season, the team had snapped their six-year playoff drought and captured the franchise`s second Atlantic division title.
Despite the team`s regular season success, Casey approached the playoffs with the same mentality as he did all season; an underdog team playing with no expectations.
"I`ve said this before the series started, we`re not a finished product. We`re taking steps there, we`re on our way there," said Casey.
"Everybody wants to rush the process, we`re still not there."
The 3-4 series loss to Brooklyn Nets gave Casey`s young starters some valuable experience of playing against the best teams in the country.