The eyes of the NBA world are upon the City of Toronto. How you feeling? The Raptors are playing in another playoff game, yet another Game 7. You know the story by now, the endless seesaw battle with the Miami Heat. The Raptors, as is their habit, keep taking small, slight, almost negligible leads in this series only to slide back down a hill of their own making. Well, OK, the Heat are a decent team too.
It was a best of 7, then a best of 5, then a best of 3, and now it is winner-take-all. At least it has stopped raining in the downtown.
Here are three things to watch for:
Can the Raptors Go Small?
In Game 4, the Raptors went small down the stretch after Bismack Biyombo had been a human wrecking ball on the glass for three plus quarters. Now, the real reason this was done was because Kyle Lowry had fouled out. The team needed offense -- even the off-balance, literally held together by a shoelace offense of DeMar DeRozan. In Game 5 the Raptors stayed big and for the most part were able to smash the Heat against the foothills of Mount Biyombo. Also, Lowry didn't foul out at the time. They won that game, is what I'm saying.
But in Game 6, the Heat abandoned any semblance of an actual centre, trotting Josh McRoberts out just enough to spell aging Joe Johnson and bedevil poor Lucas Nogueira. It worked damn well. The Raptors have the personnel to match the Heat's small lineups. They can run out Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll and even James Johnson. They have Norman Powell just sitting there. Options exist. But will it work or will the wily (small) veterans of the Heat, as per Game 6, win the day again?
Will someone step up?
The Raptors' X-factors are multitude. If Patterson is hitting his 3s (he went 0-for-2 in Game 6), look out. If Cory Joseph is locking down fools on the perimeter (Goran Dragic dropped 30 points on 12-for-21 shooting in Game 6), look out. If Terrence Ross is playing like he knows where he is (0-for-4 from 3 but two dope as hell dunks; we'll call it a wash), look out. If DeMarre Carroll can hold his body together (he's got a surgically repaired knee, a sore wrist, and apparently a tweaked ankle now too), look out.
If all four of these guys give the Raptors their best efforts, Toronto wins easy. If it's three out of the four, we probably breathe a bit more comfortably. If it's two out of four, hang on to your butts. If it's one or, god forbid, none, things get very, very dark indeed.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan
Bottom line however is this: the Raptors aren't surviving this game if their two best players don't play their best game. In the regular season you can hang in there with bad performances; against Indiana you could mask a less than efficient outing; but now, with the stakes this high, and sharks like Dwyane Wade on the other team, the Raptors need Lowry and DeRozan to play like Lowry and DeRozan. It worked in Game 5, they were let down in Game 6. And now we're here.
This is not 2001. There is no graduation going on. This is not this team's first Game 7. Yes, a series with the Cavaliers would be rough. But still, the Conference Finals are just sitting there. Let's get it.
Where to Watch: 3:30pm, TSN