After winning five in a row rather easily, the Toronto Raptors faced a tougher test against the Miami Heat last night. Toronto prevailed, barely, as both the offense and the defense fell asleep with four-and-a-half minutes to go.
Sometimes a Win Feels Like a Loss
With 4:42 to go, Kyle Lowry, lights-out from downtown on the night up to that point, drained a three to put the Raptors up 16. They didn’t score another field goal the entire rest of the way, and they missed 3-of-6 from the free throw line, giving Miami every chance they needed to come back.
Thankfully Miami’s final two attempts from distance—which were both decent shots, considering time and score—rimmed out.
The Raptors struggled to work the offense for a good shot over the final minutes, with Lowry missing two midrange jumpers and a three, and DeMar DeRozan missing two awkward floaters and a fadeaway. And even when the ball got inside, they couldn’t finish, with Delon Wright missing a layup and Jonas Valanciunas badly misfiring on a short hook shot.
Going the other way, the Raptors were equally out of sorts, as the Heat pushed the tempo off all the Raptors misses and Toronto was lackadaisical in stopping the ball, letting Goran Dragic get where he wanted to go and letting the Heat score quickly—or draw fouls on a scrambling Raptors D—to whittle the score down against a short clock.
Naturally, the Heat also secured two offensive rebounds in that timeframe (three, really, if you count the one DeRozan picked up and ended up stepping out of bounds on). Officially Miami won the rebounding battle in that stretch 9-6 (though again, it was more like 10-5).
It was ugly.
But maybe—hopefully?— it was a good thing. Sometimes you need a win that feels like a loss to remind the team that not everything is going to be easy.
I Really, Really Dislike Goran Dragic
(Hey, it’s five thoughts. Sometimes they’re as simple as that!)
Did the Raptors Starters Need to Come Back In?
The Raptors entered the fourth up 17 and the five-man bench unit maintained the double-digit lead through the first five minutes; it stood at 12 when Lowry and Valanciunas came back in with 6:50 to go. DeRozan soon followed, and the closing group was those three plus Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright.
That’s a really small group that hadn’t played a single minute together until last night.
Could a lack of familiarity (and spacing on offense) (and size to rebound, note the numbers above) have contributed to the Heat’s comeback?
More importantly I wonder if Dwane Casey shouldn’t have simply rolled with the five-man bench unit the rest of the way? Perhaps with Norman Powell in for C.J. Miles?
I understand his reluctance; the bench struggled in the second quarter, giving up a 15-3 run that put Miami in control before DeRozan took it back (and a masterful, and ridiculous, Kyle Lowry 2-for-1 gave Toronto a halftime lead), and this Miami team wasn’t going to roll over easily. But the bench overall played well in the third and fourth quarters, and was instrumental in growing the Raptors’ lead.
It’s easy to second-guess after the fact. But I’m not sure that small lineup made sense, and if the starters were in fact needed, why not roll with the Lowry, DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, JV and VanVleet lineup? That’s one of the Raptors’ best units (20.7 net rating) and Ibaka was having a solid night (5-7 from the floor, 14 points, 10 boards).
C.J. Miles Went Cold Once Again
Perhaps, on another night, C.J. Miles might’ve joined that final group in place of Wright. But he was ice cold on the evening, hitting only 2-of-10 three-pointers (including four straight to start his night). And the scary thing was that I feel like he forced a few last night; normally, even when Miles is off his shots feel good, coming naturally off ball movement. Last night, he shot two early in the fourth that just didn’t seem to come from within the flow of the offense.
And he was a step slow (slower, perhaps) on defense as well, even allowing a blow-by to a positively ancient Dwyane Wade.
Meanwhile, DeRozan wasn’t helping matters from deep last night either. While Miles was forcing threes, DeMar seemed to be settling for them, and they just weren’t dropping—1-of-7 on the night. (He also shot two foot-on-the-line long twos to add to the frustration.)
This Heat team gives DeRozan trouble it seems. He doesn’t seem able to get to his spots as easily as he’d like against their larger wings.
The good news is that other than Miles and DeRozan, the Raptors were lights-out from three, shooting 10-18.
On a Lighter Note, Kudos to The Raptor
Back in 2010, I took my wife to her first Raptors game and after she enjoyed one of the Raptor’s skits during a timeout, I jokingly said, “the Raptor has been the best part of this franchise since day one.”
Walking out after another Raptors loss, I wondered if I was, in fact joking.
Thankfully things have turned around since then, but the Raptor has remained the best mascot in the NBA. The organization treated him right last night on the occasion of his 1,000th game with the team (who keeps track of these things?!) with a gaggle of other mascots on hand (Stripes! Carlton! Buzz! Ace! Slamson! Whatever that thing is from Orlando!) and a ton of skits and retro videos.
Coolest of all was a video tribute from Raptors old and new, featuring DeMar, JV, Vince Carter, Matt Bonner, Chuck Swirsky, Muggsy Bogues and even Mighty Mouse himself, Damon Stoudamire.
Well done Raptors, and well done Raptor.
So, not a great win, but a win nonetheless, making it six straight for the Raptors with one more—tonight, in Chicago—to go before the All-Star break. Let’s hope they close it out with a win!