In what has been one of the ugliest playoff series' imaginable, the Raptors will look for a pivotal win tonight against the Heat. Being back home in Toronto, this means everything.
Sure, a Miami win would only bring the series to 3-2, but does anyone really have confidence in the Raptors, playing short-handed, winning two-straight games to save their playoffs hopes and earn a series against the Cleveland Cavaliers? No. No one does.
Here are a few things to watch:
Playing Without Valanciunas
Tonight, sans starting centre Jonas Valanciunas, it's about doing whatever it takes to win. For the Raps, that has always been relying on big performances from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, neither of whom have showed up enough during the playoffs. Sure, both have had their moments, but if their playoff stats were their regular season stats, neither would have made the All-Star Game.
Plainly, if their backcourt shows up, the Raptors have a great shot at winning. The Heat just don't have a response for Lowry and DeRozan. Sure, Dwyane Wade is an incredible talent, but his defensive chops aren't where they used to be. And, we all know Goran Dragic isn't doing anything defensively. So, as it has been throughout the series, the door is open, and everything relies on two stars walking through it. So far, they haven't.
Guards vs. Guards
In Game 4, Lowry and DeRozan combined for 19 points, clearly not enough to best the Heat, even with role players like Bismack Biyombo showing up with 13 points. DeRozan shot an ugly 4-17 from the field, which looked slightly better when compared to Lowry's 2-11. It's almost impossible for the Raptors to win when their supposed catalysts play like that.
On the other end of the court, Dwyane Wade did as Dwyane Wade does. Even in his old age (34), Wade scored 30 points to push his team over the hump. That's the kind of leadership Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is paying his stars to provide. Tonight, they need to show they are capable.
Scoring in the Paint
With both Valancuinas and Heat starting centre Hassan Whiteside out, it will be all about a guard battle. Look for both teams to try to slash their way into the paint against worse rim protectors. In particular, this sets up Wade for success. Beyond Biyombo, the Raps don't really have an answer for him in terms of rim protection.
On the other end, both Lowry and DeRozan need to recognize when their shots aren't falling and adjust accordingly. They are both highly capable when driving to the hoop, yet they risk contested jump shots too often. Against the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts, the guards need to take advantage and blow past.
So tonight, expect a tight clash, and look for Wade to once again pile his entire team on his back. The Raptors winning depends on their stars doing the same.
Where to Watch: TSN, 8:00pm