Heading into the penultimate game of the regular season, the Raptors just want to stay healthy and ready for the playoffs ahead. All other considerations are merely nice to haves — not need to haves. For the ninth-place Miami Heat however, this Sunday afternoon’s showdown in Toronto was absolutely a need to have. Riding a three-game losing streak, the math has turned against the Heat. And the Raptors did them no favours, coming from behind to win 117-109 in overtime, all but crush their post-season aspirations.
In truth, it could not have happened to a more annoying team. I’m editorializing here, but my goodness the Heat really find ways to get under a person’s skin. We can set aside last season’s Fred VanVleet injury in Game 82 and just assess their play in this specific contest. It had it all — annoying timely 3s from Dwyane Wade (in his last visit to Toronto), inexplicable shot-making from former Raptor James Johnson, bounces that end up right in Hassan Whiteside’s hands, errant limbs from ogre Kelly Olynyk, reckless plays at the rim by Bam Adebayo, and Goran Dragic’s ongoing forays in the lane. That the game went to overtime stands as a distinct summary of the Heat’s collectively endless try-hard presence.
For the Raptors, this oppositional effort was enough to shake them out of their mid-afternoon end-of-season malaise. The home team’s first quarter effort was stop-and-start at best, with only Pascal Siakam’s 11 points standing apart from the usual sleepy noon narrative. The quarter’s 26-25 score said more about the Heat’s inability to hit shots than Toronto’s skill at defending them. This trend caught up with the Raptors in the second quarter though, as Toronto put forth some of the softest defense we’ve seen in awhile — and the Heat started hitting their lay-ups. In that frame the Heat’s lead got as large as 13, and if not for a surging Norman Powell’s 11 points in five minutes, it could have been worse.
“I don’t know, just out there trying to play basketball,” said Powell in a stream of cliches that doubled as a neat summary of his annual springtime explosions. “Get these last few wins. Get locked and ready for the playoffs, take advantage of the games, on the details, try to impact the game any way I can. Find opportunities to be aggressive on offense, really lock in on defense.” It’s a description that also summarizes the Raptors’ effort the rest of the way.
Shortly after falling behind by those unlucky 13 points, Toronto went on a 7-0 run and made the game more of a seesaw competitive affair. The Heat clung to the lead for most of the third quarter, and held on by one heading into the fourth. Then we got some intense basketball for the rest of regulation — with both teams taking and making their best shots — before the Raptors went wild in overtime to put the game away.
Leading the charge for the Raptors were the twin energy boosters of Siakam and Powell, who put in 23 points apiece. Siakam went off on 8-of-10 shooting, plus ten rebounds. He also had five points in OT, including a game-sealing three in front of the Heat bench. Powell, for his part, shot nearly perfect, going 7-of-7 from the field (with four 3s), and was just a missed free throw away from the 1.000 line. That pair was joined by a late-breaking Kawhi Leonard, who had 16 of his 22 points in the second half, despite the Heat’s continuous physical pressure.
The Raptors also got true-to-form-of-late performances from the rest of their starters. Kyle Lowry didn’t shoot the ball well (1-of-8 from the field, zero 3s), but had nine rebounds, five assists, and more than one hit-ahead pass to a streaking Siakam. Similarly, Marc Gasol didn’t score a ton (just eight points), but had seven assists and ten rebounds, finishing a +23 on the afternoon. That Gasol was able to keep Adebayo in check for most of his run (2-of-7 from the field; though, yes, 13 rebounds) is something to remember as well when watching the big man lumber around out there. He knows where to be at all times on both ends of the floor.
And then there was Danny Green, who looked like he tweaked both his ankles — one late in regulation, then the other in OT — while he was scoring seven of his 21 points in the game’s extra frame. Once again Green shot the lights out, going 5-of-9 from deep, with two assists and three rebounds. It was exactly the kind of shooting Toronto needed today, and will continue to be extremely nice to have as this team heads into the post-season.
Like many of the Raptors’ contests against the Heat, this was another drawn out fight. Miami kept the pressure on for the entire game, and tried different looks — including a zone defense the Raptors busted by first using OG Anunoby and then Siakam in the traditional centre position on the floor — to slow Toronto down. When they succeeded in, say, quieting Kawhi however, they’d let Norm go off, or give up a sudden run from Serge Ibaka (12 points, three blocks). Miami is now 38-42 and barring some spectacularly good breaks, could find their summer coming up faster than they expected.
Which means we may be a few games away from the end of Dwyane Wade’s career. The Heat legend had 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting with four 3s and five assists. It felt like he was almost always ready with a timely shot for the Heat — until, in this case, he wasn’t. At the end of regulation, with Siakam draped all over him, Wade missed the jumper to win it. And in OT he could only muster one last three — half of the Heat’s six points in the extra period — before wilting under Toronto’s superior talent. Credit to him though, Wade played the same way he’s always played against the Raptors: impossible to kill, never-say-die, always giving his team a chance to win.
A couple of weeks ago it felt possible the Raptors would see the Heat in the first round of the playoffs and have to deal with Wade’s stubborn magic one last time. Now with four losses in a row for Miami, that will definitely not be the case. The Raptors have one game left on the season and feel destined for a series against the Magic, Nets, or Pistons. If nothing else, it’s a tribute to Wade that this comes as something of a relief. He would definitely do something to win the Heat a game in a playoff series against Toronto, and we’d hate to see it — while secretly marvelling in the fact that it could still be seen.