Coming into today’s game, it seemed like all of Raptors Twitter had the same expectation. Kawhi Leonard out for load management, an off-night in Miami, along with a Sunday afternoon game on Daylight Savings was a recipe for disaster. So naturally, the Raptors came out of the gates firing, had one of their best first half performances of the season, tied a franchise record in made threes, and went on to beat the Heat easily, 125-104.
With Kawhi out, it was interesting that coach Nick Nurse decided to start Patrick McCaw instead of Norman Powell or OG Anunoby. Fortunately, it it turned out to be a good decision. McCaw provided his usual energy on defense, and stayed within himself on offense. He even hit two three pointers to extend the Raptors lead heading into the half, as part of a game-busting 14-0 run. For his efforts, McCaw would finish with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, plus three rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes.
In the first quarter the Raptors came out hitting on all cylinders. Opening up a 16-10 lead halfway through by playing active defense, getting out in transition, and getting hot from the outside going 4-of-6 from three, with Danny Green hitting two of them. The Raptors’ veteran two-guard was lighting it up on his own, finishing the game going 5-of-8 from three for 15 points.
The Raptors, perpetual slow-starters, spent the night in South Beach, lost an hour of sleep and have an early tip against a favored Heat team playing for their playoff lives. So, naturally, they've hit 4 of their first 6 3s and are up 16-10 early.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 10, 2019
The Raptors continued their hot play in the second quarter, as coach Nurse once again started with a Lowry + bench lineup. The Heat tried to switch things up by going zone early, but it was short lived as the Raptors countered by playing through Gasol in the high post. He was able to find open shooters — Norm hit two threes as a result — and find cutters into the lane — where OG went to work. The lead was blown open at the end of the quarter as the Raptors just got hot from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka, Green, and McCaw all hit threes to give the Raptors a 68-54 lead heading into the half.
On multiple occasions this season, we’ve seen the Raptors come out of the halftime break sluggish and give up leads, but that wasn’t the case today. They kept their foot on the gas as they once again hit multiple threes to keep a comfortable lead. The only time they started to sweat was near the end of the third quarter, when they gave up a 9-4 run to end the quarter. In that little window, the Raptors went 2-of-7 from the field, and the Heat looked to be doing their usual grind-it-out Heat thing. Toronto was helped in the moment by Siakam forcing things for a few minutes. It was about the only time he played “poorly” in the game, as he went off for 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, plus five rebounds and five assists.
With the Heat cutting the lead to 12 to start the fourth, it became a game where Kyle Lowry was not going to let the team lose, hitting three after three and letting the Heat bench know about it too. Always remember: KLOE.
Another big part of the fourth was the aggressiveness of OG Anunoby. Toronto’s second-year forward has been finding himself as of late, and playing better basketball as a result. In this one, OG was driving to the basket and forcing fouls early, and later went off for a few possessions in a row with a dunk. It was that stretch in the fourth quarter, fuelled by Lowry, OG, and Siakam, that put away the Heat for good. The Raptors went up 111-91 with 5:37 left in the game and that was that.
It could have been an easy game for the Raptors to lose. As mentioned before, the circumstances leading into the game haven’t usually work in Toronto’s favour. But instead, this might have been their best overall performance of the season. They broke open a lead early, kept the pressure on, and when the Heat made a run to bring it back to single digits they locked in again and showed why they’re a top team in the East — and the league.