Raptors guard Kyle Lowry didn't mince words on his disappointment Tuesday when asked about Toronto's early playoff exit at the hands of the Cavaliers, calling it a "wasted year" in spite of the team's franchise-record 59 wins.
"We felt like we could possibly make the NBA Finals," Lowry said. "That was our goal."
The Raptors' postseason fizzled out Monday night when their ultimate nemesis, LeBron James, and the Cavaliers finished off back-to-back second-round sweeps of Toronto. It's the third straight year the Cavs have bounced the Raptors from the playoffs.
"To be the best, you've got to beat the best," Lowry told reporters. "We've continuously failed against the team that made the Finals the last three years."
The series slipped away after a Game 1 loss in which the Raptors coughed up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, missed multiple potential winning baskets and lost 113-112 in overtime.
"This is probably the toughest, most frustrating, difficult, lowest feeling I've had," DeMar DeRozan said Tuesday. "You get to that point where you're standing firm through everything and you feel like you can't get knocked down again, and you realize you do get knocked back down again. It's kind of the worst feeling."
Toronto nearly rallied to win Game 3, but James banked in a remarkable tiebreaking basket at the buzzer.
"There was opportunity there, we just didn't seize it," guard Fred VanVleet said. "These playoffs will be in the back of our minds all summer."
The Raptors' inability to beat the Cavaliers after clinching the the top seed in the Eastern Conference might force coach Dwane Casey into a cruel checkmate.
Casey has coached Toronto since 2011, leading the team to five straight playoff appearances and three consecutive 50-win seasons. The Raptors have set franchise-record win totals in three of the past four years and finished atop the East for the first time this year.
Toronto's deepest playoff run came in 2016, when it lost to the eventual-champion Cavaliers in a six-game Eastern Conference finals.
Neither Casey nor team president Masai Ujiri spoke to reporters Tuesday. Ujiri is expected to speak later this week, but no date has been set.
On Monday, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said it would be "absurd" for the Raptors to fire Casey.
Neither Lowry nor DeRozan directly endorsed Casey on Tuesday, but both spoke glowingly about their coach.
"All of my success, I have to credit Casey," DeRozan said. "No matter what, I'm always going to have the utmost respect when it comes to Coach Casey."
Lowry acknowledged he and Casey have clashed over the years, but said he's "always believed in him."
"He's one of the best coaches out there," Lowry said.
"To be the best, you've got to beat the best. We've continuously failed against the team that made the Finals the last three years." Raptors guard Kyle Lowry
Lowry said he was frustrated the Raptors let the Cavs get "way too comfortable" after Cleveland entered the second round worn down by a tough, seven-game series against Indiana.
"We weren't ready to be as physical as we needed to be," Lowry said. "We did a great job in the regular season, but playoffs are just different."
James is different, too, a generational talent who has represented the Eastern Conference in seven straight NBA Finals and is now one round away from reaching his eighth.
Lowry called LeBron "one of the greatest players to ever play the game."
Despite his disappointment, DeRozan said he won't shy away from the challenge of facing James.
"As a competitor, we want to go up against that because the story is sweeter once you dethrone a great," DeRozan said.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, they're still looking for a way to unseat King James.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.