A game between the two most annoying teams on the planet was always going to come down to which side could be just the slightest bit more obnoxious. In the first of what should be three truly blood-boiling match-ups between the Raptors and Heat this year, it was Miami that left with the slight edge in irritation — 121-110 in overtime the final score.
From the start of the disjointed and low-energy first half, the Raps seemed confused to be up against a team that tries just as bloody hard as they do. Working Kyle Lowry back into a team that was just starting to find its groove without him was going to be tricky against a relaxing opponent — let alone one that’s violating your personal space at every turn.
“First of all I thought they played with great energy. I thought they were really flying around at both ends, much, much more than we were, so that was kind of the first thing,” said Nick Nurse of the Heat’s gusto.
Against this Miami team, even your successes are a pain in the ass; scoring against their thicket of arms and muscles is more a relief than something you feel any sort of accomplishment about. Basic swings around the horn become suddenly fraught when the Heat are geeked up. Toronto barely scraped out more than a point per possession on the night, and some of their prettiest buckets came at the end of 18 seconds or so of extreme danger.
One of the heaviest brunt-bearers of the Miami swarm was Pascal Siakam. Just two days removed from a three-level bucket party against Utah, Siakam was out of sorts from the tip. It’s probably safe to add Bam Adebayo to list of guys who truly spook Siakam in single coverage; Giannis Antetokounmpo and noted zero-point scorer Joel Embiid are the only guys who have been more of a problem for Siakam’s rhythm-dependent offensive stylings.
“Give Bam some credit. He did a good job. I thought he was physical with him, thought he moved his feet and kept him in front,” Nurse said of Adebayo’s effect on Toronto’s top scorer. “Pascal couldn’t get around him, couldn’t get over the top of him very well either. And I thought as well as a team defense, you know there’s a few times I that I looked and Pascal was in the paint with four guys on him ... they sent a lot of attention to him but it started with Bam.”
Siakam finished with 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting, spliced with some of his worst defense of the season. Other Raptors had worse nights from the floor, but this is Siakam’s loss more than anyone else’s.
Toronto surely vexed Miami throughout the evening as well, as they’re wont to do. A spritely second quarter run led by the latest in a long line of Lowry-plus-bench looks helped Toronto crawl back near even through a tasteful mix of defense, chaos and Lowry’s deft orchestration. But as would become a trend later in the evening, no Raptors run sustained for long.
Into the third and fourth, Toronto kept in touch, but pushing back against every potentially tide-shifting basket was chintzy off-ball foul or a bucket by, like, Duncan Robinson’s Twitch stream host looking ass.
As Miami frustratingly nursed its narrow lead into the fourth, the things that make the Raptors so exhausting to play against began to work against them. After a promising start in the first half, the group of Lowry, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka fell victim to its own zaniness. The drawback of employing so many chaotic maniacs is that sometimes they’ll push the unruliness past the point of effectiveness. RHJ had what will go down as his worst night since his joining the rotation — just 6-3-1 with a pair of turnovers and a handful of miscommunications on the defensive glass. Ibaka found his stroke in the middle portion of the game, but remnants of 10 games worth of rust showed up as crunch time inched nearer.
Of course, it was Kyle Lowry who helped settle everything down before things got critical. After a breakneck couple minutes, Lowry attacked and picked up a trip to the line, and followed that up with a no-nonsense drive into paint for a bucket through half a dozen lunging limbs.
Lowry’s calm set the table for a hypertension-causing home stretch. Rolling with the starting lineup, minus OG Anunoby, plus Norman Powell, the Raptors battled back from a mini Kelly Olynyk (?) onslaught to somehow force overtime. Many thanks belong to Norman Powell, who canned a pair of icy cold threes in the closing minutes, and was just about the only reliable Raptor on offense all night. He finished with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Aiding Norm along the way was Lowry, who finished regulation with a very Lowry 12 points, six rebounds and 11 assists on a creaky 2-of-15 shooting, including eight misses from outside. That last stat was the only one he’d pad in the extra frame, as wobbly legs and a wayward stroke finally caught up to Toronto’s nuisance in chief.
“It was a tricky one for me tonight,” said Nurse of how he managed Lowry in the face of an off night from the floor. “I bring him back and then he’s kinda part of the comeback there at the end and made some plays and was trying everything he could, and he make some good plays, and then you get to overtime you kind of roll with what you have.”
“Obviously that’s not a very good shooting night for him or for Fred (5-of-16 for 19 points), and I would think that if those guys are 7-for-34 we’re probably in trouble,” Nurse added. They’re too good of shooters for those kind of numbers.”
Lowry’s counterpart in internal skin-itching, Jimmy Butler, was the hammer-dropper on Wednesday. An and-1 on a mid-range jumper, a impossible, leaning three, and a transition lay-up off a steal in the opening minute of OT provided five points more than Miami needed in the entire frame to win the game. Butler’s the kind of bastard you simply have to respect, man. That sentiment applies to his new team as well — a team that now sits even with the Raptors at 15-5.
The good news for the Raptors is, there’s really on one team out there that can match the them in the realm of trying hard. Now, to avoid them in the four-five series that would shorten the lives of all involved.