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Five Thoughts on Last Night: Heat 116, Raptors 109

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The Toronto Raptors couldn’t hold off the Miami Heat, falling one win short of 60 with a 116-109 loss. Welcome to our final five thoughts of the regular season!

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

Finally, the long grind is over! It didn’t end the perfect way the Toronto Raptors wanted it to: with a 116-109 loss to the Miami Heat, and only 59 wins instead of the magical 60. But it doesn’t obscure a fantastic regular season and the excitement for the possibilities to come in the postseason.

Well, That Was a Bummer

It’s hard to get too upset about Toronto not getting to 60 wins. It sure would have been nice, but it’s just a number. They’ve already done the important things: top seed, franchise record, played the right way, rested their guys and so on.

But losing to Miami, while playing that hard, stinks. Even just allowing that game to go into overtime stinks. Miami was missing Goran Dragic, (probably) its best player! How frustrating.

Wayne Ellington getting scorching hot and hitting 6-of-7 3-pointers in the fourth quarter is insane. (Allow me to officially welcome Wayne to the long list of “Random Bench Dudes That Inexplicably Kill the Raptors”.) The degree of difficulty on some of those shots was extremely high: hand in his face, popping around screens; he did for Miami what the Raptors need C.J. Miles to do for them, only Miles has been M.I.A. lately.

Ellington finished with a career-high 32. Sometimes you just gotta shrug when a guy gets hot like that and take the L.

It Was Clear Kyle Lowry Wanted This One

We haven’t had a classic KLOE game for a long while, and we were on the verge of one last night. And if Lowry had willed the Raptors to victory that’s all we’d be talking about today. But he ran out of gas at the end of the night and couldn’t quite take us all the way there.

(Instead we have to lament Wayne Ellington. Sigh.)

Right from the tip, Lowry looked locked in, hitting the first shot of the game—a corner triple off of some beautiful ball movement from DeMar DeRozan and OG Anunoby. On the Raptors’ next possession he launched a pull-up-3 in transition, only to miss, grab his own rebound and drain a 15-footer. Two plays later, he set a wonderful screen on Hassan Whiteside, allowing Jonas Valanciunas to break out a spin dribble and soar in for a dunk.

Over the next two quarters Lowry racked up seven assists and eight rebounds, and when the Heat went on a 9-2 run in the fourth to cut Toronto’s lead to two, Kyle came back in ready to close it out, hitting 4-of-5 shots over the final 5.5 minutes and doing everything he could to match the fire shooting out of Ellington’s fingertips.

Unfortunately, Kyle lost his mojo in the overtime period, going 0-for-3, missing a deep 3-pointer that would’ve given the Raptors the lead and a layup he just couldn’t finish at the rim. He also executed a lazy handoff to DeRozan that Josh Richardson easily stole and converted to a bucket at the other end.

Lowry finished with a stellar 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting with nine assists and 10 rebounds (and only that one aforementioned turnover). Safe to say he’s playoff-ready.

Jakob Poeltl is Playoff-Ready Too

We’re all curious how the bench will do in the playoffs, not just because of the typically shortened rotations we see, but because this will be the first time many of them play meaningful minutes in the postseason. Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam have a grand total of 65 playoff minutes under their belts, most of it in garbage time. How will they respond?

We’ll find out in a couple of days, but Poeltl’s play recently has been a great sign. He had a four-game stretch where he went 15-15 from the field, is shooting 35-42 (83%!) over the last eight games overall, and has scored in double-figures in four straight, the first time in his career he’s done that.

His minutes are up, naturally, since the team is giving Valanciunas a little axtra rest, but Poeltl has proven his ability to fill those minutes. The chemistry with Siakam, of course, is sensational. Check out this Siakam spin and dump-off (gotta love Jakob’s shocked look that no one is guarding him).

Poeltl’s hands are also fantastic. So many big men just don’t have that soft touch or ability to catch tough passes, but Poeltl just gobbles up passes even when they’re off target, and finds a way to get the ball up to the rim:

I really can’t wait to see how the bench plays in the playoffs!

Is Dwane Casey the Coach of the Year?

This is a tight race! There are plenty of deserving candidates. (Although it’s worth remembering that this is award is pretty meaningless... after all, Sam Mitchell won it.)

I think any one of Casey, Brad Stevens, Quin Snyder, or Nate McMillan could win, and I’d be fine with any one of them receiving the award. I think Casey’s, er, case speaks for itself; took a good team, changed its style of play, got its superstars to buy in, elevated the play of its young players, and made that good team eight games better.

One thing I won’t stand for is this idea that Casey doesn’t deserve credit for instituting a change that was “obvious” and that “everyone else in the NBA is already doing.” That’s BS. Casey and the Raptors rode the old style of play to the best record in franchise history three years in a row, and took the team deeper into the playoffs than ever: two wins from the Finals. The playoff results may have been precarious, but the end result is all that matters. Why would anyone have expected Casey to change then? Going in to last season, that style had proven to be successful.

As last season progressed, the Raptors’ record and the eye test showed slippage, that the league may have passed them by. But no one expected Casey to change the offense halfway through the season, and besides, the team missed Lowry for the final quarter of the season, got nothing from Patrick Patterson (who was huge the year before), and changed the roster significantly at the deadline.

Changing the style of play this year, while bringing back essentially the same roster, and getting better is an incredible feat. Trusting a bunch of second and third-year players to anchor the bench and give the stars extra rest is incredible. Whether he wins the award or not, Casey and his staff deserve a ton of credit.

What Constitutes Success or Failure for the Raptors?

The NBA is a league that has, especially in the modern era, measured success by postseason excellence and championships won. Which on the one hand is fair, because that’s the ultimate goal. But on the other hand, only one team can win the title each year, and that can’t mean that the other 29 teams failed to succeed. It’s not all or nothing; there have to be degrees.

For the Raptors, this season is already a success based on the numbers (top-5 offense and defense, impressive point differential, franchise record in wins, top seed in the East) and the more intangible things (the changing style of play, the roster moves, the development of young players).

But because we pay so much attention to the postseason it feels like they haven’t accomplished anything yet.

The season can’t be all about the destination; the journey matters too. And this season, so far, has been a hell of a journey. So many big wins and exciting games. Seeing our stars adapt to a new offense, and excel. Seeing the Bench Mob develop—how fun has that been?

The journey isn’t over but I do believe that, no matter what happens next, it doesn’t invalidate what’s come before.

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For me, I have 82 of these recaps to remind me of how much fun this season has been! We’ll be continuing these in the postseason but for now, quick shout-out to the RaptorsHQ staff and all the writers and contributors for welcoming me, and for a great regular season.

See you on Sunday morning for Five Thoughts on Game 1!