After two stellar matchups this season, one couldn’t really expect the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat to deliver a third — especially with both teams on the second night of a back-to-back, and playing in the bizarro world that is the mostly-empty Scotiabank Arena.
And yet — they did just that! It may not have been a triple-OT “game of the year” thriller, but it was an exciting contest that once again went down to the wire and featured big performances on both sides.
None were bigger than Gary Trent Jr.’s. The Raptors guard posted his franchise-record-tying fifth straight game with 30 or more points, and his franchise-record-tying fifth straight game with five or more three-pointers made.
Bam Adebayo dominated the other way, scoring 32 points on 13-for-17 shooting, along with 11 rebounds.
As with the previous two Raptors-Heat games, this one was within one possession down the stretch. After trailing most of the night and down by as many as 15 in the third quarter, the Raptors used a big fourth quarter, including an 8-0 run from Trent at one point, to come all the way back and build an 8-point lead, 108-100, with less than two minutes to go.
But the shots went cold for Toronto and Miami went on a 6-0 run to trail by two with just 6.7 seconds to go.
I can only imagine Nick Nurse, at this point, thinking his own players would mutiny if they had to take the Heat to overtime once again. That would certainly explain Nurse going for the jugular on the ensuing inbounds play, a perfect SLOB alley-oop from Scottie Barnes to OG Anunoby at the rim. The ball dropped through, the Raptors were up four with 6.1 to go, and after a Max Strus three rimmed out the Raptors had the 110-106 win.
Pascal Siakam notched a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Precious Achiuwa contributed 12 against his old team.
Jimmy Butler almost rang up another triple-double against his favourite opponent; he finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists.
Playing in silent Scotiabank sure didn’t bother the Heat in the first half. They shot 58% from the field, and hit six of their 14 3-point attempts. They also assisted on 16 of their 22 makes, and overall just moved the ball beautifully.
The Raptors got off to one of their patented slow started, falling behind 7-0 before the red-hot Trent (who else?) drained a three. What a heater Gary’s been on! He scored on the next possession as well, but it wasn’t enough to slow down the Heat, started the game 6-for-7 from the floor and found themselves up 17-7.
The Raptors, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t do themselves any favours, picking up four fouls in less than five minutes — two of them from Pascal Siakam, who had to sit the rest of the frame. The Heat stretched their lead to as high as 12, and finished the quarter up 32-22.
Tyler Herro kept the momentum going for Miami in the second; he hit his first three shots and assisted on a Max Strus three that once again pushed the Miami lead to 12. The Raptors finally found a spark from Scottie Barnes, who scored a runner off a nice dish from Pascal Siakam and then, after a forced shot clock violation, Barnes drove to the rim and Precious Achiuwa cleaned it up to cut the lead to six. But a quick 6-0 Heat run pushed the lead back to 12 once again.
Fred VanVleet — who had a bizarrely passive first half, taking only one shot through the first 20 minute of the game, finally hit a jumper to cut the lead to 10 again, 53-43, with 3:30 to go in the half. Trent Jr. followed that with a triple to cut it to seven; he finished with 17 in the quarter.
The Raps then had two chances to cut the lead to five or four, but Barnes forced a tough shot over Bam Adebayo, and Fred turned the ball over on a bad pass on the next possession. The Heat finally capitalized on the other end, first with two Adebayo FTs and then an Adebayo dunk after a Justin Champagnie turnover.
When all was said and done, the 12 point lead remained — Miami finished the half up 62-50, with Adebayo pouring in a clean 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting.
Miami finally pushed the lead to 15 on a Butler three after halftime. But Fred VanVleet got himself on track! He dropped in a couple threes of his own, then three free throws after getting knocked into the first row but Gabe Vincent. Vincent then fouled VanVleet again, this time on an and-1 opportunity. Fred missed the freebie, but Siakam cleaned it up and got an and-1 of his own. He converted and just like that, the lead was four.
The Raptors continued to struggle holding Bam Adebayo off the glass (three offensive rebounds in the third), but the Heat finally went cold (1-for-11 in the quarter). Gary Trent kept the Raptors in it at the line; fouled on two straight drives, Trent hit 3-of-4 to keep the Raptors within four. A Trent thee with three minutes to go in the quarter got them within three, and that’s exactly where the quarter ended, with the Heat up 83-80.
The Heat struck first in the fourth, but five straight from Pascal Siakam, including a corner three, finally tied the game at 85. Achiuwa followed it up with a corner three of his own, giving the Raptors their first lead. An OG Anunoby steal and a Dalano Banton layup suddenly had it at five.
The Heat responded with a 6-0 run, courtesy of some sloppy Raptors play (four turnovers), to take a 93-92 run. But Trent dropped a three over PJ Tucker, did the exact same thing two players later, and followed that up by draining two-of-three free throws after being fouled by Adebayo behind the arc.
I don’t want to credit the Raptors’ D too much — the Heat missed some open looks — but holding the league’s best there-point shooting team to 2-for-16 shooting behind the arc in the second half is no small feat. We also shouldn’t dismiss this three-game winning streak; that’s two in a row over the Heat, a team right at the top of the standings, and an Atlanta Hawks team that had won seven straight. And the Raptors are getting more and more clutch minutes, with their best players healthy.
The tough tests continue soon enough; the Raptors welcome the East’s top team, the Chicago Bulls, on Thursday, then face the Hawks once again on Friday.