Let’s get the Bosh talk out of the way. My favorite chant: Over-rated, over-rated. Short, to the point, no drama, and most of all, accurate. I’m glad he didn’t get booed as bad as Carter since he wasn’t even half the player Vince was. Bosh talk over. Well, not all of it, A-Dub was at the game and I spoke to him after:
The start was inspirational as expected, anytime one of the prodigal sons returns there’s excitement and excitement fuels energy, so there was energy. Bargnani and Calderon supplying the offense and the Heat playing their part to ignite the crowd by committing turnovers. The Raptors’ modest hot start was a 12-6 lead, which is when the field goal percentages started to take shape. The Raptors have been allowing too high of a shooting percentage for too long of a time, in fact, they are now officially the worst team in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage at 48.4%. The Heat shot 61% at the end of the first, 58% at halftime, 57% at the end of the third, and 49% for the game. Overcoming that is going to be tough with Calderon, Johnson, Barbosa, and Weems all misfiring.
DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis are looking like the product of this season. It’s been a dismal year by all accounts with little to look forward to each game, but if these two can show the signs of quality in their young NBA careers, it could just all be worth it. The improvements in their games have been incremental, DeRozan’s jumper has gotten steadier and Davis is figuring out what it takes to play the NBA’s version of the power forward position. Last night at the ACC as people were focusing on Chris Bosh, my gaze was fixed on the two Raptors that have the best chance of bringing some hope to this stricken land. Both were good and Bargnani was stellar, that and the combination of decent overall effort made this a night to be pleased with.
Amir Johnson was tasked with guarding Bosh and I was a little disappointed in him, his effort was immense as usual and his activity-level high, it just felt that he let Bosh off the hook too easily. Johnson fell for some very soft pump-fakes which sent Bosh to the line and allowed him to get comfortable early in the game. On the other end, Johnson missed a lot of close-range efforts after well-run pick ‘n rolls, these lost points should have have helped the Raptors into a halftime lead, instead it was a 50-46 deficit. No complains with the scoreline, it just could have been better. Andrea Bargnani’s jumper was working right from the outset and despite his defensive failings, he kept on chugging and attacking Bosh, often with success. He finished with 38 point on 15-26 FG, you have every right to criticize his rebounding and defense, however, on this night this game is a blowout without him. I enjoyed him scoring on Bosh, and as A-Dub mentioned in the Rapcast, a lot has to do with his size allowing him to get a shot off against the shorter Bosh. If you recall, Bosh was often torn to shreds by pretty much every power forward ranging from Zach Randolph to Boris Diaw, so this wasn’t exactly a shock.
The Heat were looking to get Bosh involved and gave him the needed touches, but whenever they hit a wall, Dwayne Wade put an end to the charity-show and did the job himself. Weems, Barbosa are no match for him, and he was unstoppable. He could easily go for 60 points if he wanted to against the Raptors’ defense, but just turned it on when needed. LeBron James had a “quiet” 23/13/8 night, barely broke a sweat and coasted throughout. Weems’ defense was uninspired at best, the expectations for his defense aren’t high and he still manages to fall short. His man-ball-basket angles are all wrong, he loses sight of his check because his concentration levels drops, and in the man-to-man matchups he’s not the tenacious player we need him to be, or more importantly for him, he needs to be to secure a spot on an NBA roster. The rotations to the perimeter have always been weak and so they were again last night. To criticize these players for not stopping Wade and James is silly, though, you have to expect to get beat off the bounce which is when help-defense and interior rotations come into play. The Raptors suck at that. Period.
Leandro Barbosa’s offensive game was forgettable and his defense wasn’t much better either, in his stints guarding House he was picked off by screens (Dampier sets really good ones, almost broke Bayless in half) and the close-outs weren’t quick enough. The Raptors’ lack of communication didn’t help him either, but even then, he has to individually do a better job guarding a known shooter. Chalmers and House hit two threes to push the Miami lead to six late in the second half, a half that saw the Raptors fight and claw to stay in the game. Bargnani and DeRozan each had 14 at the half in a 50-46 game. The Heat’ slow start and the Raptors two main offensive guns keeping this close.
No complaints at this point, Bosh was getting his without being highly efficient, the Raptors were missing a lot of close-range shots, partly due to Dampier’s presence, and the effort level was good. The Raptors would always need a small miracle to overcome the scoring prowess of Wade and LeBron, but as long as they kept the game tight, a chance to pull a win was there.
Dwayne Wade took it upon himself to create distance in the third and had 11 points in the quarter, his last of the frame giving the Heat a 71-59 lead. Up until that time, the Raptors scoring had all been Bargnani and DeRozan, nobody else had it going – Barbosa and Bayless were making a mess and Calderon could not find his range. The surprise substitution which had an impact was Alexis Ajinca, the Frenchman had four points in the late third and had a couple inspired defensive possessions which trimmed the lead back to six. Barbosa then lost House for consecutive jumpers before benefiting from a three-point foul to send the Raptors down eight heading into the fourth.
Without LeBron to start the fourth, Chris Bosh thought he could win this game for the Heat – he failed. The Heat started 0-7, 4 of them missed Bosh jumpers. The Raptors were within five and facing another assault by Wade. There was no answer for him, the Raptors didn’t want to double and I don’t blame them, Wade and James combined for 12 points in a Heat fourth quarter stretch which was matched by Andrea Bargnani’s accuracy from deep, he had a massive 17 in the fourth, and the Raptors were within striking distance – down 5 with 1:49 left. They got the defensive stop they wanted but couldn’t keep Erick Dampier off the glass for a tip-in that sucked the life out of the ACC crowd as the lead went back up to 7. More Bargnani and DeRozan offensive magic cut it to 4 which is when the Raptors conceded another killer offensive rebound, this one to James on his own shot and it was a six point lead with 57 seconds left. Game over, iced off by Johnson missing another close-range shot.
The energy from the home team was there, they were competitive, fouled hard, and did their best. In the end, Wade had 28, Bosh had 25 and James had 23. No other Heat had more than 8, and that’s more than enough to beat this year’s Raptors. The Heat were always in control, right through Bargnani’s magnificent offensive game and the ACC crowd’s feckless jeers.