In the days since head coach Dwane Casey was surprisingly fired by the Toronto Raptors despite being voted as Coach of the Year by his peers, many NBA fans took to social media to jokingly “accuse” Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James of getting the opposing coach sacked by means of his postseason heroics. Those heroics most notably included a buzzer-beating shot that helped the Cavs beat the Raptors, 105-103, in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. However, Raptors owner Masai Ujiri reportedly saw things in a far more serious light, with his frustration over Casey’s lack of postseason success allegedly hitting critical mass after that play, where the Raptors weren’t able to double-team James and effectively defend him as he hit the game-winning basket.
Citing multiple unnamed sources, Canadian publication Sportsnet wrote that Ujiri was quickly losing patience with Casey’s “inability to transfer regular season success” to the playoffs, as the Raptors lost all four games to the Cavaliers in their recently concluded series. This included a Game 1 overtime loss at home, where Casey was reportedly criticized for going big against the smaller, quicker Cavs, and their subsequent Game 2 defeat, where the Raptors lost their one-point halftime lead, as James and Kevin Love combined to give Cleveland an 18-point win with a strong second half.
Game 3 was decided by only two points, and while Toronto was able to rally back from a 14-point third quarter deficit in the fourth, Sportsnet noted that the Raptors ultimately fell apart in the final minute. This included blowing a good scoring opportunity after a timeout, and failing to double-team LeBron James in the last few seconds and anticipate that the Cavaliers would come out of their last timeout and inbound under their own basket.
According to Sportsnet, it was that final play that infuriated the intense Ujiri, who reportedly “stormed” into the Raptors’ dressing room at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, and angrily dressed down Casey for his failure to call the right play at crunchtime.
“Observers noted that the intensity was more than typical for Ujiri, who can run hot at the best of times,” wrote Sportsnet.
Beyond Dwane Casey’s lack of postseason success and his perceived inability to help his team deliver when it mattered the most, Sportsnet wrote that Raptors management found him “lacking” in three key areas, including the ability to make the right situational adjustments in games, his tendency to play it safe in terms of his offensive play-calling, and his lack of intensity when it came to pushing All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan “out of their comfort zones.”
As previously reported by USA Today, Masai Ujiri admitted on Friday afternoon, shortly after Dwane Casey was fired, that letting go of the 61-year-old head coach after the Raptors’ 4-0 loss to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals was the “hardest thing” he’s ever done in his life. The decision came despite Toronto having compiled a franchise record of 59 wins in the regular season, with Casey also being the longest-tenured and winningest coach in Raptors history.