Early Friday morning, the NBA world received the startling news that Toronto Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey, winner of a franchise-record 59 games and recently named “Coach of the Year” by his peers, had been fired. Casey had given the Raptors unprecedented success in the regular season, coaching the team to all three 50-win seasons in franchise history, but that all changed when the playoffs came around. Each of the last three seasons ended with the Cleveland Cavaliers reveling in the confetti while Casey’s Raptors were mired in defeat. 

In 2016, the Raptors finished with 56 wins, only one behind the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Cavaliers. The first round was a nailbiter as the Raptors snuck by the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers in seven games. The next round pitted Casey’s Raptors against the third-seeded Miami Heat for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals. Yet again, the Raptors pushed to a seventh game, but were able to find a way through into the conference finals where LeBron James and his team, the Cavaliers, waited. The Cavaliers blitzed through the first two games easily, but the Raptors tied it up with two wins at home. Games five and six proved destructive for the Raptors as the Cavaliers ran through the Toronto franchise, eliminating them from the playoffs. Despite the failure to advance, the season was seen as a success, arguably the best season in Raptors franchise history.

The next season, the Raptors finished as the third seed, just behind the Cavaliers. For the first round, the Raptors were able to finish off the young Milwaukee Bucks in six games, winning the final three games of the series. But around the corner in the semi-finals was “King” James, and he made his presence felt. The Cavaliers steamrolled the Raptors to a sweep, while LeBron never scored less than 35 points in any game of the series. The ineptitude of Casey’s team in the playoffs, and especially against Lebron, was beginning to show through. Despite stars such as Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry, as well as mid-season pickup Serge Ibaka, the team was unable to win even a single game against the Cavaliers and struggled to finish off teams in the previous playoff appearances. 

2018 shaped up to be the Raptors’ season; they cruised through the regular season to the tune of a franchise record 59 wins, the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the second-best record in all of the NBA. The best season in Raptor history was entering the playoffs with Casey at the helm all season, who oversaw career years from Derozan and Jonas Valanciunas and saw the emergence of young players Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. Their first round opponent was the last-seeded Washington Wizards, who pushed the Raptors to six games, again casting some doubt over the Raptors’ and Casey’s ability in the playoffs. 

Only furthering the narrative, the Raptors’ subsequent opponent was none other than the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season’s iteration of the Cavaliers proved a stark contrast to the dominant teams of past seasons. Hurt by the loss of Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, the Cavaliers came into the season with a supporting cast of veterans that seemed to provide a questionable fit alongside LeBron. The regular season went all but according to plan for the Cavaliers, as new acquisitions Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder stumbled leading to mid-season trades for Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Rodney Hood and George Hill. The Cavaliers rebounded in the second half but, alas, finished as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and all in all were a much weaker Cavalier unit. Game one in Toronto came down to the wire, with Cleveland winning in overtime. But in the second game, LeBron came out in full force scoring 43 points as Cleveland took a 2-0 series lead. The matchup again came down to the wire in game three with LeBron hitting a circus shot to finish off the Raptors. Game four was the final straw for Raptor management, as the Cavaliers obliterated the Raptors by 35 points, ending the sweep and the Raptors’ season. In the final game, stars Derozan and Lowry demonstrated extremely poor efforts, as did the entire team— a microcosm of Raptor playoff basketball. Throughout the series, LeBron had himself nearly outperformed Derozan and Lowry combined. 

The first strike came down on Friday when Casey was fired. More reshuffling of the Raptors is surely in the works. With three consecutive defeats at the hands of LeBron James, something had to change. In order to overcome back-to-back defeats against the Pistons, Michael Jordan and the Bulls implemented the Triangle Offense but, moreover,  learned how to deal with adversity from their defeats. Obviously the Raptors don’t have a Michael Jordan-esque player, but Raptor management felt Dwayne Casey’s playoff ineptitude was enough to warrant removal. Someone else will have to attempt to bring Toronto out of LeBron’s shadow.