TORONTO — A day after the Toronto Raptors' four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards in last year's playoffs, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan talked.
They vowed they'd never again have to feel that stinging pain of a season that ended too soon.
Sunday, the Raptors' all-stars and close friends put their word on the line when they host the Indiana Pacers in a Game 7 that has huge implications for the Toronto franchise.
"It's like the Super Bowl," Lowry said Saturday. "Win or go home. It's one game. Survive or don't survive. Gotta win. Gotta win."
The Raptors practised Saturday less than 24 hours after a humiliating 101-83 loss to the Pacers in Indiana that evened the series at three wins apiece.
The Raptors are searching for just their second playoff series win in franchise history, a woeful streak that goes back to 2001. They lost in a heart-breaking seven games to Brooklyn two years ago, and then suffered the ugly sweep last season.
"It's time to experience a new feeling now," DeRozan said. "That's how we have to approach it. It's what you live for, getting these moments to have the opportunity to have a new feeling that his franchise hasn't experienced in awhile. It's time for us to go out and take advantage of why we have home-court advantage."
DeRozan, who along with Lowry has struggled mightily in this series, said a Game 7 feels "like life or death."
"I've only experienced it from a losing aspect, and that feeling sucks," he said. "The time after, just to be able to turn on the TV to watch a basketball game, that part of it sucks, and everything that comes with it. Understanding once we go out there tomorrow night, that's it. That's how we've got to treat it. Everything else we'll figure out after that last second runs off the clock."
Lowry and DeRozan know that despite roaring to their best regular-season in franchise history — 56 wins and a first-ever No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference — the results of Sunday's Game 7 will ultimately define their season.
"Yes," DeRozan said, then quickly switched gears. "If (Sunday) don't go. . . I don't even want to put that negative energy out there, because that's not how we think. We're going out there thinking we won our division, we won 56 games for a reason, to have home-court advantage, and we're going out there to take advantage of it."
DeRozan and Lowry, who'd been so solid all season — touted as the second-best backcourt in the league behind Golden State's Steph Curry and Klay Thompson — have had a rough series. Their 44.7 points a night combined over the previous 82 games has dropped to 30.1 points against the Pacers. Their 44 per cent shooting has plummeted to 32.
The message at Saturday's practice was: hit the re-set button.
"I don't care what happened (Games) 1 through 6. I don't care. I'm shooting 31 (per cent), I don't care," Lowry said. "I'm shooting zero per cent right now. I've got a clear empty clip."
Raptors coach Dwane Casey believes this is a different team than the previous two playoff squads. He called them more resilient, grittier, and better able to respond when their "backs are against the wall."
Last season, Casey said they were "looking for Exit Stage Right."
"This year I don't sense any of that," the coach said. "I sense fight. Guys understand what this is about, and they're not afraid of the moment."
Casey said the mood at practice was positive and focused, no hanging heads or slumped shoulders.
"You've got to push the re-set button. Flush what has happened in this series," said Casey, whose job arguably could depend on Sunday's outcome. "You've got to go and do what you've done for 82 games. . . . And stay together, don't fragment, don't listen to the noise. The most important person is sitting next to you. Play for him, play for that guy sitting next to you, and stick with the guy next to you."
DeRozan, whose future in Toronto is also on the line Sunday — he'll become a free agent this summer — called Game 7 the biggest of his career.
"Yeah by far. It'll be the funnest one. Everything. It could be everything and one," DeRozan said. "And that's the beauty of it, honestly, just to have that opportunity. A lot of people don't have this opportunity.
"It's big, and it could be one that could be talked about a long time from now. But it's going to be fun. It'll be a lot of fun."
Sunday's winner advances to the conference semifinals where they'll meet either Charlotte or Miami.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press