Valiant, Vigilant, and at times Voracious, but not Victorious

Commentary, rather than analysis of last night’s game.

I usually try to work some kind of analysis into my post-game recaps. I try to find some interesting trends in the numbers, or I break down a play or two, but I’m going to try something completely different; I will shift to just commentary.

Here goes nothing.

So the Heat defeated the Raptors last night by a score of 90-83. Nobody should really be all that surprised; these are the two-time defending world champions. This is simply what they do. You know what you were getting when you saw this match-up on the schedule – you were in for a loss. Lebron James wears a jersey for this team. So does Dwyane Wade. You know what you’re in for.

[Want an abbreviated version of the recap? Check out the Quick Reaction post with grades for your beloved Dinos!]

And credit to the Raptors; they clearly had a plan of attack, albeit a flawed one. I understand that the Heat have no real centers on the roster (Greg Oden’s broken body does not apply), and we have this big shiny Lithuanian prospect manning the pivot, but playing through Valanciunas against the Heat was a fool’s errand. At this point, Jonas is not skilled enough to successfully handle double-teams, which was apparent in the early going. Either by luck, or by familiarity, Dwane Casey shifted the gameplan to a wing-oriented attack early in the first.

I should mention that I am not of the opinion that Valanciunas should have been frozen out of this game. I would have liked to see the Raptors use him in a variety of ways – cutting towards the rim, pick-and-rolls – but this was simply not a good match-up for our prized blue-chipper. As of right now, Jonas has three credible offensive skills: posting-up one-on-one (shot-fake, drive towards the middle, hook shot), pick-and-roll (he keeps the ball high and rolls HARD), and offensive rebounding. The Heat doubled Jonas in the post and blew up pick and rolls by trapping the ball handler; this wasn’t a good match-up for Jonas.

So without Jonas (or Amir) in the mix offensively, Casey reverted to attacking through his wings, and against all odds, it worked to some extent in the first quarter. Demar hit a handful of tough shots over Wade early on, using an assortment of dribble moves to create enough space for him to rise up and hit some jumpers. Were they good shots in the abstract? No, but with the Heat’s defense locked in to start the game, Demar’s answered prayers were all that we had. His development on the offensive end has been rather promising – he might be more than just Corey Maggette 2.0

While the Raptors played isolation-ball through their wings, the Heat also played through their wings, but they did it with passing. Both teams saw their starting shooting guard and small forward shoot a combined ~35 times this game, but not all shots are created equal. The Heat passed the ball very well, especially when Lebron drew a second defender in the post, and they found open cutters darting towards the basket, or they found wide-open spot-up shooters on the perimeter. Meanwhile, the Raptors offense usually consisted of Demar curls around a Hansbrough/Amir/Jonas screen and shooting, or Gay attacking Lebron/Beasley on dribble drives from the top of the key. The Raptors couldn’t stop the Heat, and the Heat didn’t really need to stop the Raptors. Unsurprisingly, the Raptors were down 14 to the Heat at the end of the half.

Since they were up big, the Heat seeming stopped caring, and just began to toy with the Raptors. Lebron came down the court on a few possessions and took a few lean-back threes just because he could, and because he’s Lebron James, he actually hit a whole bunch of them. Wade did his usual off-the-ball/in the post stuff. Typical stuff from the Heat.

To their credit, the Raptors made a run in the third on the back of a Tyler Hansbrough-led small-ball attack. Thanks to his frenetic and boundless energy, Hansbrough was able to mitigate any loss in rebounding while also giving the Raptors some quickness on the interior. He rotated well and stayed between his man and the basket. With Hansbrough in to handle some of the defense, Gay and Derozan were freed up to attack more on offense, and the Raptors learned to beat the Heat’s traps by doing something magical called “passing“. Lowry sunk a pair of threes from the left wing (what a commie), Demar hit a few jumpers and Gay tossed in a heroball shot over Lebron. There was life.

And to be fair, the Raptors defense was quite successful. The lineup of Hansbrough-Gay-Ross-Derozan-Lowry worked hard on defense, rotating and generally being where they should be. They forced Miami into taking tough shots and committing uncharacteristic fouls. On the other end, Hansbrough grabbed offensive rebounds like a Black Friday shopper grabbing discounted electronics and gave the Raptors extra possessions to tie the game. The Raptors even got to within four points of the Heat after Demar crossed up Rashard Lewis (remember him? Whaddup to the Sonics) and nailed a jumper in his eye.

But then the free throws. Good lord. DeRozan. Gay. Hansbrough. So many wasted opportunities (8, to be exact, they shot 2/10 in the fourth). The Raptors offense was successful in the last six minutes of the game, but the damn free throws just wouldn’t drop, and before too long, time just ran out for our beloved Dinos (there’s an extinction joke here). Valiant effort, but not enough.

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