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C.J. Miles’ shooting touch is coming around at the perfect time

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After struggling down the regular season’s stretch run, C.J. Miles appears to have rediscovered his shooting touch — a good sign for Toronto’s playoff fortunes.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Halfway through the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Raptors clung to a two-point lead. It was 100-98, the game zipping along at a fanatic pace. Delon Wright had just made a tough driving finish and subsequently snuck in and deflected Washington’s lazy inbound pass. Scrambling to save the ball from going out-of-bounds, Kyle Lowry found Wright, who found Lucas Nogueira. Bebe — passing up a layup of course — spotted a wide-open teammate on the perimeter. It just so happened to be C.J. Miles.

So much can be unpacked from that play, whether it be Bebe’s ongoing selflessness, or Wright’s defensive ability, or, of course, Lowry’s hustle. Each Raptor played their respective role in the sequence’s script. And then there was Miles, who would hold up his end of the bargain too, sticking the open shot and giving Toronto some much-needed breathing room. That shot may very well have been the turning point for Miles, who has spent the last two months searching for a shot gone missing.

Despite winding up a 36 percent three-point shooter on the season, Miles struggled in March and April, converting only 32 and 27 percent of threes taken in those months respectively. His usage rate stayed consistent throughout the season, at 22, and whether he was making or missing, the majority of Miles’ offensive attempts came from three, with about 77 percent of his field goals of the three-point variety. If he’s missing threes, the offense feels it.

Miles’ Game 1 performance, much like Serge Ibaka’s dominant showing, is precisely the level of contribution needed from the team’s cast of supporting characters. While every player to a man is expected to make a meaningful impact when called upon, those two — Miles and Ibaka — should be leading the charge.

Ibaka is the tertiary scoring option among the starting five. But the Raptors fare best when he’s in the 16 and 10 range for points and rebounds. Miles, meanwhile, is critical for spacing, whether it be with the second-unit or a mixed lineup. The numbers indicate Miles really doesn’t have a lineup preference. When he is missing from three, defenses can sag inwards and clog up the painted area which limits what Toronto is capable of offensively.

All of this a roundabout way of saying that C.J. Miles’ shooting remains a critical piece to Toronto’s championship puzzle. Game 1 saw the Raptors make 16 threes on 30 attempts (53.3 percent). The sixteen makes represented a franchise record, and Miles led the way with four makes — on just seven attempts.

C.J. ‘Barometers’

Throughout the season, Miles’ three-point success has been positively correlated with the team’s overall success from distance. When he is on target, the team is generally on target (and vice versa).

CJ Miles’ Three-Point Shooting, by month

MONTH TORONTO'S 3PT% (Team rank) Miles' 3PT% (for the same month)
MONTH TORONTO'S 3PT% (Team rank) Miles' 3PT% (for the same month)
October 29.9 (30th) 37.5
November 37.8 (8th) 41.2
December 34.4 (23rd) 36.1
January 35.0 (16th) 34.8
February 38.7 (6th) 43.6
March 37.0 (13th) 32
April 35.8 (18th) 27
*According to NBA.com

Heading into Game 2, there’s no denying that adjustments are needed to better contain the Wizards’ star backcourt. Meanwhile, on offense, there were times Toronto looked lost, unable to decipher what their opponents were throwing at them. The playoffs are all about adjustments, whether you win or lose if you stick with the status quo or whatever worked yesterday, it could be a short journey.

With the return of Fred VanVleet on the horizon, Toronto’s playoff rotation will need to adjust to having one of its primary contributors back into the fold. VanVleet, like Miles, holds another key to Toronto’s long-distance effectiveness. Throw in Lowry and those three are the team’s main long-distance diallers. And three-point shooting remains the single most critical key to victory in the playoffs — everyone knows it could be the Raptors’ weakness (despite the success in Game 1).

Gone are the days of deference in Toronto, guys shying away from asserting themselves, opting to allow DeMar DeRozan or Lowry to play hero ball for 48 minutes. Now, players are playing freely, showcasing skill sets few knew they had. The organizational shift away from relying too heavily on its two all-stars has given players like Miles (and VanVleet) more opportunity to make meaningful contributions on offense.

The regular-season proved that the supporting cast surrounding 10 and 7 is no joke. Certainly, Miles’ three-point stroke is not something to chuckle at, no matter how off it appears to be. Through the bad stretches, both player and club have remained confident in the sharpshooter's ability to make big shots. The belief seems to be paying off with Miles appearing to have finally turned the corner after a rough end to the season.

Here’s to hoping it continues into Game 2 and beyond...

***GAME 2 UPDATE***

Miles stays hot, going 4 of 6 from three in Toronto’s 130-119 win. 2-0 GOOD GUYS!