The gruelling, ugly seven game series played between the Heat and Raptors in 2016 obviously left some residual feelings. Tuesday’s game was ripped from the lost appendix of that Eastern Conference Semifinal — a grotesque, low scoring series where physicality ruled — and Miami appropriately won this one on a breakdown, with the score firmly in double digits, 90-89.
Wayne Ellington made the game-winning layup with 0.3 seconds left, after a small Raptors lineup was spread thin by an excellent out-of-timeout play from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. With OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam messing up communication on the strong side, Ellington drove baseline for a semi-contested layup.
That, on the heels of a DeMar DeRozan putback to give the Raptors one of just a few leads in the game, was a major buzzkill. What might be even more buzzkill-y is the expected aftermath of this game.
In the third quarter, a skirmish between Serge Ibaka and ex-Raptor James Johnson resulted in punches thrown both ways. Both players were ejected.
James Johnson-Serge Ibaka throwing punches at each after getting heated pic.twitter.com/CJdIXGliRJ— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 10, 2018
More swipes occurred after the final horn, as DeMar DeRozan extended an arm to shove Goran Dragic after a not-so-friendly exchange at halfcourt.
Aint no shaking hands between these two pic.twitter.com/KnuSVXAHNU— Agent of NBA Chaos (@World_Wide_Wob) January 10, 2018
While DeRozan’s effort might not be suspension-worthy, you’d expect Ibaka to miss games as a repeat offender (he notably threw fists with Robin Lopez late in the 2016-17 season). With Kyle Lowry already day-to-day, and some of the most anticipated games of the Raptors season on the direct horizon — Cleveland on Thursday and Golden State on Saturday — there’s no other way to say it. This sucks.
The loss is just the second of the season for the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre, as they fall to 28-11 overall.
On a night without Lowry, Toronto clearly missed a few of his intangibilities. While the first quarter was played close, the second quarter was marred by the Heat getting to the glass early and often. The disparity in rebounds — 64 to 37 — is the story of the game. Toronto was simply unable to deal with the interfering length of Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo.
Adebayo, in fact, had the game of his young career for Miami. He scored 16 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, five of them offensive, and had five blocks. Spoelstra showed a few looks with him and Whiteside together, and while the Heat’s $100-million big was just 6-for-16, he too had an impactful 15 rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas was competitive in his minutes, but only had 21 of them, as his pick and roll coverage was simply too poor to keep him out there to bang with Miami’s twin towers. Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira just weren’t strong enough.
Also pivotal for Miami was Goran Dragic, the pest who always seems to get the mental edge on Toronto. His 24 points led Miami, and he also had 12 rebounds. (Sensing a theme?)
While the second quarter was the most egregious on the boards, the third quarter saw some life from the Raptors. An 11-2 run started the quarter, with the starters showing strong defensive energy. OG Anunoby was particularly revelatory, showing deft footwork on one possession guarding Dragic, forcing a fallaway miss after a series of jukes and jabs.
The Ibaka-Johnson fight at 7:30 ended up being a bit of a turning point in the quarter. A mini Dragic spurt pushed the Heat lead out to nine again, and with DeRozan playing a full quarter on a back-to-back, things were bound to get weird.
In the fourth quarter, they did. Toronto came out with an all-bench unit with Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown, and Norman Powell as the backcourt; against all odds, they put together a 7-2 run to get the Raptors back within three.
With DeRozan rejoining the action halfway through, the Raptors were able to finally make it a game. There were countless examples of Heat-Raptors ugliness in those last six minutes: turnovers, bad shots, and — most painful of all — a wide open missed three by Norman Powell, followed by a missed layup. In the end, that one breakdown by Siakam and Anunoby sealed it, and frustrated tempers boiled over.
DeRozan led the Raptors with 25 points on 29 shots. Delon Wright and the ejected Ibaka were the only players in double digits, with 13 and 11 respectively.
Now, the team looks ahead to two key suspension decisions by the NBA, and Cleveland on Thursday night.