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Raptors lose in OT to bruising Heat, will play Wizards in first round

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With a win total on the line, the Raptors went all in... and came up short against a rough Miami squad.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

If the Toronto Raptors were looking for a playoff tune-up, there was no better place to go than South Beach. In the last game of the season, often an evening for rest and contemplation, the Heat and Raptors went at each other with intensity — a rough, physical game that ended in a 116-109 overtime win for Miami.

The loss means the Raptors fall just shy of the 60-win mark. They finish the season 59-23, the best record in franchise history by a couple games, and head into the playoffs as the East’s number one seed.

Wednesday also decided who would finish in the eighth seed, as the Washington Wizards lost a tank-off with the Orlando Magic, 101-92. Further, for those who feel confident and are already looking ahead, the Philadelphia 76ers secured the East’s third seed with a 130-95 trouncing of Milwaukee. That leaves us here:

In what I’m dubbing “Spring ‘18: The Redemption Tour”, a Raptors path to the NBA Finals would theoretically go through Washington (who swept them embarrassingly in 2015), Cleveland (LeBron humiliates them routinely), and Philadelphia (time travel back to 2001). It’s a hard road, but a spicy narrative.

Tonight, the Raptors really didn’t have any of that in their control. A Miami win or loss meant different things depending on results elsewhere, but the Heat played like they always do — purposeful and powerful. Aside from the lackadaisical Hassan Whiteside, this Heat team is scary when their shooters get going. They were led by Wayne Ellington off the bench, who dropped 32 points (including eight threes) to lead all scorers. Seven other Heat players scored in double figures, proving on the stats sheet how this team comes at you in waves. (Philadelphia can have them, I’m happy this is the last time Toronto will see Miami.)

On the Toronto side, it was an exercise in not getting injured. C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet all spent time in the locker room after getting elbowed or run over at different points in the game. Miles returned, Ibaka may loose a tooth, but VanVleet took the worst of it — he left with a right shoulder bruise and did not return. Dwane Casey did not give a status update post-game (possible he doesn’t know, possible it’s gamesmanship).

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, like it or not, also played heavy minutes in this one. Lowry was special, finishing with 28 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists in 38 minutes. He was 5-for-10 from three and demonstrative with the basketball. It was clear he could thrive with Goran Dragic out due to knee soreness — Lowry looked a few years younger constantly driving to the bucket and pushing in transition. Beside him, DeRozan had 19 points in 30 minutes.

The game got going with a quick Raptors run. Five points from Lowry and a Serge Ibaka block put Toronto up 7-0, as Toronto’s starters played uniformly well in the first quarter. Miami made some shots to answer (Ellington primarily) with their bench minutes, and the game remained close heading into the second.

Casey rode his bench a bit harder in the second, and it became apparent that Whiteside was losing his minutes against both Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl. On a team full of players willing to bang, run, and cut with full commitment, Whiteside just... stands out. He pouts a lot, raises his hand for the basketball, and spends a lot of his time on defense not moving at all. It’s clear a lack of touches is dispiriting for him, but his line says another story — the man was 5-for-16 for ten points. Three missed bunnies in the second allowed the Raptors some breathing room, as they entered the break up 53-47.

Miami really hit their groove when Bam Adebayo started eating into Whiteside’s minutes. A burly dude who gets on the glass, Adebayo fit Miami’s scheme: pulverize the Raptors at every opportunity. The game took on a more physical character in the second half — that’s when the three Raptors missed time — but transition opportunities (led by Lowry) helped Toronto pull ahead in the third.

It wasn’t until overtime that they finally wore down. Miami’s crowd was energized by their team’s effort, and more shots started to fall. In crunch time, the Raptors got a bit lazy with execution — running isolation sets for DeRozan and Lowry in hopes of getting a bucket. Too many of those chances came up dry. 60 wins fell off the table.

So with that, the playoff matchups are set. Schedules come out later tonight, as the Raptors will open their series against Washington at home on Saturday or Sunday. Don’t read too much into this game, just be thankful Toronto doesn’t have to see this try-hard Heat team again in 2017-18.