The Raptors were clear-cut favorites heading into yesterday’s match against the Thunder, and with reason. They didn’t just possess the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) home record, having lost a mere five of 34 contests at the Air Canada Centre. They likewise owned a heady 11-match win streak, with their sterling play of late indicating that they were in line to improve their slate before 19,800-strong fans.

As things turned out, the Raptors wound up losing by seven, a development made all the more unacceptable by what they felt was shoddy refereeing. In particular, they felt top scorer DeMar DeRozan’s game-tying layup try with 30.9 ticks left was foiled by a foul that was clear but uncalled. And they failed to keep their poise after that, leading to ejections for the All-Star, teammate Serge Ibaka, and head coach Dwane Casey.

So incensed were the Raptors over the outcome that they actually planned on filing a formal complaint to the Commissioner’s Office. Meanwhile, they argued their position before scribes, underscoring their frustration with the way whistles were blown — or, as the case may have been, swallowed — in the crunch. It didn’t matter that their protestations could no longer change the score, or that they put themselves in line for fines from the league. “Officials are going to miss calls, but at the juncture of the game when some of the calls were made, we’ve got to get it right around the league,” Casey contended. “Not just this game, the entire league.”

No doubt, the bench tactician was referring to the increasing spate of complaints from his peers regarding the state of officiating in the NBA. In the last week, such notables as the Clippers’ Doc Rivers and Stan Van Gundy have seen fit to use sessions with media as means to air their concerns. And they’re right, if misguided; no quarter winds up without a black mark when results are questioned.

Needless to say, the Thunder found cause to celebrate in the aftermath. Top dog Russell Westbrook pointed out, not without irony, that “you’ve got to be able to keep your composure through it all. That’s what the game is all about. We’ve got a lot of veteran guys on this team who are able to do that.” In triumph, he seemed to have forgotten his frequent brushes with the men in gray.

Still, Westbrook has a point. The referees will not get every call right, and it’s incumbent upon players to compete through adversity. And in their more collected moments, the Raptors would do well to learn from their setback and make sure their implosion doesn’t happen again. They may currently be the Beasts of the East, but they’ll be better prepared to handle the bigger challenges that lie ahead if they don’t stand in their own way.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.