Stop it. Just stop trying to figure out the Raptors. It's futile. They are stupid, and infuriating, and nonsensical. They're both unstoppably good and lottery-team bad within almost every playoff game they play.
They're also a total freaking blast.
Somehow, Toronto pulled a 96-92 overtime win out of its ass on Thursday night, tying its Conference Semi-Final series with Miami at 1-1.
So how did it happen?
For eight playoff games, Raptors fans had been waiting for the team that captivated the city and steamrolled to 56 wins in the regular season. Short flashes of okay-ness here and there were the only shreds of evidence that a more aesthetically pleasing version of the team existed - until the opening tip of Game 2 against Miami Thursday night.
In the first 12 minutes Toronto punished Miami, forcing an assembly line of steals and capitalizing on their handy work in transition. The Raptors did to the Heat what the Pacers did to them for seven games in the last round, but with more talented players. Toronto tossed the ball around, sinking triples and pulling apart the Miami defense. DeMarre Carroll showed off some of the scoring touch he's been trying to regain since coming back from injury, and Kyle Lowry even hit a three from a normal place on the court!
One of the most complete Raptors quarters in ages came to a close with the Raptors up 29-19.
Then, as you might expect given the goings on in these playoffs, slippage crept in. Despite Terrence Ross's swinging cojonés, the Raptors' offense started to stagnate. Lowry, while shooting an improved 4-of-10 in the first half, couldn't quite master the decision-making process when entering the paint against Hassan Whiteside. Poorly timed pass attempts resulted in Whiteside swats, and the tentativeness that has haunted Lowry during his shooting slump resulted in hapless pump fakes like these:
Hey man, you like pump fakes? https://t.co/sGACDcV8IJ— Taco Trey Kerby (@treykerby) May 6, 2016
Lowry and DeRozan bricks dominated a downright inexcusable third quarter. Toronto's All Stars went just 4-of-13 in the frame, and their issues were compounded by a renewed emphasis on protecting the ball by Miami, and some awko-taco lineup arrangements. James Johnson truthers got their wish as he entered for five minutes in the third quarter ... a stretch that completely sapped the Raptors' spacing and triggered an eventual 17-2 run for the Heat. Bismack Biyombo was abysmal in his time on the court in Game 2 as well; without sure enough hands to be a go-to option in the pick-and-roll, and with little shooting dotting the floor around him, Biyombo dammed up a stream that was barely running in the first place.
After three quarters, Miami led 65-63. All of the joyous fluidity from the opening 12 minutes - gone.
Raptors had 9 assists in the 1st quarter, they have 2 since, including none in the 3rd. They've been outscored 50-34 since winning 1st 29-19— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 6, 2016
"Everyone's standing. We've gotta get some more movement," said Casey after the game.
It looked like the Raptors' offensive monotony was going to stymie a fourth quarter comeback. Reminiscent of the final frame in Game 7 against the Pacers, Toronto's ball movement stayed non-existent.
But finally, in the dizzying last few minutes of regulation, Toronto broke free of it's perpetual state of trailing by five or six. A litany of Jonas Valanciunas hustle plays on both ends, and a pair of breakthrough jumpers from Kyle Lowry made it look like the Raptors were going to escape with no extra time needed. But, obviously, Raptors gonna Raptor.
DeMarre Carroll blew a key defensive assignment with 10 seconds left, opening up Goran Dragic for a game-tying three. Toronto responded with a 2015 Lou Williams-esque play call, and Lowry sent the game to overtime in a far less eruptive fashion than he did in Game 1: with a missed 28-footer.
Dwane Casey's decision to ride Valanciunas until the bitter end might have been what ultimately swung the game Toronto's way. Biyombo was brutal in 14 minutes. Valanciunas shone in his 38 - 16 of which came in the final 17 minutes of action. Miami drivers, normally used to watching Whiteside end the scoring dreams of opponents, were repeatedly met by Valanciunas and his gargantuan figure. He scored 15 points, grabbed 12 rebounds (six of which came on the offensive glass) and even dished a pair of assists on the night, but his rim protection in overtime was what lifted the Raptors to the series-tying win.
There are a million things to scrutinize about how the Raptors played on Thursday - from Lowry and DeRozan's combined 16-of-46, to the persistent ball-stopping, to Carroll's uneven defense despite leading the team with 21 critical points. But the Raptors won ugly, and did so on the back of their gigantic playoff hero.
"We can harp on the negatives and beat that drum, beat it to death, but we're finding other ways to win and that's very encouraging," said Casey.
He's not wrong. Series tied 1-1, and we're off to South Beach.