The closing moments of the game were not without some drama, but Wade (14 points) and James both made clutch free throws and Haslem (6 points), showing the spring in his step that will be a factor in the pursuit of a championship, blocked a Lowry layup with 14 seconds left in the game with the Heat holding on to a 3-point lead.
After a great first three quarters, a Raptors offence that had been operating at peak efficiency for 36 minutes was stymied by the Heat’s defence. Toronto failed to score in the first four minutes of the fourth and with James looking like his unstoppable self, the momentum of the evening changed. Still, the Raptors look very much for real and the rest of the league respects the team for the first time in years.
“We played the Pacers a couple games ago and played them tough, we played the top two teams tough, there’s no moral victories at all,” said the Raptors’ point guard, who had 14 points and nine assists in the loss. “We just know we can play with anybody, we’ve been saying that for a long time. We could play with anybody.” “It says a lot,” added DeMar DeRozan after scoring a game-high 26. “It says no matter who we play we’re going to go out there and play hard. People are going to have to worry about us when we come in their building or they come in our building. We’re not no scrub team.”
Offered the chance to slip out the rhetorical back door when someone threw out the (quite reasonable) suggestion that it had been a “moral victory”, Casey screwed up his face like he’d been hit with a strong smell. “You don’t get any medals for losing.”
Even with the poor free throw shooting, Toronto still had their chances to win at the end. Amir Johnson missed a 5-footer in the lane with 24 seconds left that would have given his team the lead and then missed a hook shot 5 seconds later that would have brought the Raptors back to within 1-point. With 14 seconds left, Udonis Haslem blocked Kyle Lowry ‘s layup attempt and 9 seconds later Lowry missed the potential game-tying three-pointer.
Asked if the perception of the Raptors has changed with the team winning 10 of 14 and vaulting within a game of third place in the East (the Heat sits second), Bosh took the query as a broader question than it was meant to be, embarking on a thoughtful discussion about the franchise he knows so well. “I think the perception will always be the same, which is they’re a team which is North of the border,” he began.
This year, although the specifics have changed, the broad strokes feel awfully similar. The new general manager is Masai Ujiri, not Bryan Colangelo. The coach, on the last year of his contract, is Dwane Casey, not Sam Mitchell. The Raptors’ nadir was six games below .500, and the wins came on the road against Dallas and Oklahoma City. A major in-season trade was involved, “tanking” has been a discussed path, and 50 games still remain in the regular season following the Raptors’ game in Miami on Sunday. No amount of success is guaranteed, but things are looking awfully good for the Raptors these days.
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