Raptors 97, Heat 102 – Box
This is what this game down to. This:

An Amir Johnson missed layup that would’ve given the Raptors the lead with seconds left in Miami. It hurts to come this close and lose and it takes me a great amount of effort to take the wider view as for the first time in years, I am rather emotionally connected with the outcomes of these games. Maybe the sheer fact that I care so much is a sign that we’re on the right track.  After this play there was also the Kyle Lowry missed three but for me, the Amir moment was the one.

The positives here lie in how the Raptors were able to keep things tight and never face a situation where Miami was pulling away from them. You can attribute that to DeMar DeRozan’s blistering first-half shooting, 8-10 for 18 points (first half shot chart), the bump the Raptors got from Patrick Patterson (9 points in first half), Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross’s perimeter shooting, or a host of other factors. However, the stat that sums up the Raptors current play is related to teamwork and that remained true in Miami: they had 24 assists on 39 made field goals. Astounding.

Read Garret’s reaction post which includes individual grades

The Raptors shot 62%, 50% and 65% in the first three quarters, respectively, before fumbling in the fourth and shooting only 29%. The disappointing part about this loss is that the Heat didn’t do anything special in that fourth quarter. It’s the Raptors, and specifically DeRozan, who strayed away from what was working to hand over momentum to the Heat, which started the fourth on a 7-0 run to take a two-point lead. In that early part of the fourth, this is what Toronto possessions produced:

11:26	MISS Salmons 25' 3PT Jump Shot - Wade BLOCK
10:55	Patterson Travelling Turnover
10:12	MISS DeRozan 25' 3PT Jump Shot
9:46	MISS DeRozan 3PT Jump Shot
8:39	MISS DeRozan 19' Jump Shot

DeRozan’s shots were some of the poorest he’s ever taken – they came off no movement, were predetermined and easy to defend, and the misses keyed fast-breaks for the Heat who got a bump from Jazz from Fresh Prince Norris Cole. The Heat defense, after being burned off of curls, baseline screens and pinpoint passes being fed to DeRozan in the first half, simply backed off him in the fourth. The Raptors shooting guard, instead of using his teammates and working the floor, obliged by accepting what was on offer while forgetting that five of his eight makes in the first half were assisted and coming from good movement. Sure, he hit some statistically frowned upon long-twos, but the shots were generated from crisp team-play in the first half, whereas in the fourth it was all static.

This key period also saw, for some inexplicable reason, John Salmons as the primary ball-handler and his delay in decision-making resulted in sputtering possessions that needed saving rather than defending. Take this critical stretch out and I’m thinking the Raptors win this game in cruise-control against a Miami squad that had to rely on Michael Beasley to give them a lift (17 points, 7-12 FG) with Chris Bosh misfiring, and Dwayne Wade being limited to shots the defense wants him to take (he was playing in his first back-to-back since Nov 16).

Free Throw Woes

“They turned up the pressure. They made us put it on the floor. They put us on the free throw line, but we didn’t convert (12 of 21). You shoot 57% from the free throw line you’re not going to beat too many people. I don’t care if it’s Miami Heat or Miami-Dade High School.”

Dwane Casey

Another item that would’ve made the difference: free throws. The Raptors did phenomenally well to force the whistle – they were 12-21 from the line, whereas the Heat were 23-27. However, in the final quarter the Raptors didn’t even go to the stripe and the Heat were 8-8 from the line. And no, it wasn’t a question of the Raptors getting the short end of the stick here, they simply stopped being as aggressive and cohesive as they were earlier in the game. Maybe it’s lack of experience or nerves, and if that’s the case then games like these will serve well to supply that missing ingredient.

I can point to a host of other items (e.g., rebounding in fourth quarter, second-half ball movement, fast-break points, bench scoring) to figure out why the Raptors lost, or more correctly, what we could’ve done better to win, but I think I’ll just stick with rebounding. The Raptors were -8 in the game and -7 on the offensive glass which translated to a 16-8 edge in second-chance points. That really hurt, especially in one particular second-half stretch where the Heat got multiple offensive rebounds in two consecutive possessions. Shooting 50% against the Heat should be sufficient to win when you hold them to 47%, except if rebounding becomes the Achilles’ heel. The irony here is that the Heat are the NBA’s worst offensive rebounding unit, and I’m thinking if Tyler Hansbrough was available things would’ve been different.

Rebounding Costs Raptors

“That’s not acceptable for us (losing offensive rebounds 7-14). Our interior people have to do a better job of finding bodies”

– Dwane Casey

Let the loss not take away from the performance – the Heat know they got a game last night and were up against a good team. LeBron was amped for the entire game, getting into it with the officials, there was frustration, emotion, and physicality on both sides and it felt like a true playoff game, much like the one against Indiana. The Raptors proved to be much more than just worthy opponents, they proved to be unlucky.

Patrick Patterson’s movement on offense remains impressive and he’s carving out a role for himself as the pressure-release on every possession. We’ve seen the type before, all offense and one-dimensional, but Patterson is different in that he doesn’t shirk his defensive duties. There were a couple questionable shots taken in the second half, but that came during that chaotic fourth quarter where the offensive precision had been abandoned in favour of a cavalier approach.

Much the same can be said for Terrence Ross, deadly from the corners and improving defensively but took his share of questionable shots in the fourth. He was taken out of the game in the first quarter in favour of John Salmons after he picked up quick fouls guarding LeBron James. I thought he did as well as you can against James, who was matched up against Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, and even DeMar DeRozan, and had an impact against every single one of them. DeMar DeRozan did his part for the #AllStarBallot and bettered James in scoring in the first half, and netted seven assists.

Kyle Lowry’s setup play for his teammates was excellent – whether it be converting a long rebound into a fast-break, forcing a turnover by applying high pressure (three steals) and making the play on the break, or simply using a live-dribble in the half-court to get to the rim; he was excellent.

Dwane Casey did call on Landry Fields in this game as well, and he looked a player without confidence and not wanting to touch the ball. The play that stuck out for me was when, on the break, he passed up a layup opportunity to dump it to Lowry who was facing two guys. The Heat bench outscored the Raptors 43-15, and if only the Raptors had gotten something more from Vasquez or Fields, perhaps their starters wouldn’t have been so gassed in the fourth.

Jonas Valanciunas had a statistically nice offensive game where he scored a few impressive baskets against a flailing Chris Bosh, but he was also exposed in terms of some of the nuances of the game.   The lack of boxing out on Chris Anderson, the indecisiveness when faced with a double-team, the bad habit of bringing the ball low with pesky guards around, getting his angles wrong against Udonis Haslem; as I brought up in a  Twitter convo with Ryan Wolstat, he’s yet to be fully acclimated with the NBA and Casey appears to have some plans for him.

DeRozan confident

“It says a lot (when the Raptors are competitive in big games). People are going to have to worry about us when we come in into their building, or they come in our building. (We’re not just a) scrub team, we’re going to go out there and give it our all.

We made a couple of key mistakes late that cost us, but it shows you where we’re at, and with that said, it shows us where we need to get better.”

– DeMar DeRozan

I’d classify this game as validated learning which is defined as “a process in which one learns by trying out an initial idea and then measuring it to validate”.  The Raptors have tested their rotations, style, and play against opposition of excellent quality and the results have validated that this team, as constructed, can compete this season.  The formula so far has been:

  • Space out floor with Lowry at the point of attack and Terrence Ross in the deep (saw tons of this last night)
  • Use DeRozan’s ability to use screens and drive as a means of getting key scores and getting to the FT line (first half last night)
  • Make use of pick’ n roll play with Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas (consistent throughout the game)
  • Have John Salmons be the “3 and D” wing off the bench, situational point forward
  • Give Jonas Valanciunas more touches to establish a presence in the paint
  • Keep action going on the weak side so there’s better passing options once ball gets there (notice how many times the Raptors set a screen for a person on the weak side and the ball eventually gets swung out to them for a good look)
  • Hope that Vasquez can provide a steady dose of pick ‘n roll action with either Johnson and Valanciunas (didn’t happen last night)
  • Apply pressure through zoning, while looking to pick off point-to-wing passes or lobs into the middle
  • Much more…

This formula was more or less followed in Miami as well.  The Raptors tied the first quarter thanks to a highly efficient offense, didn’t get blown out in the second, built a lead in the third, and unfortunately couldn’t close the deal out.  As I already mentioned, the bench contribution was lacking as Vasquez and Fields failed to provide anything, and Casey’s 9-man rotation missed the presence of Tyler Hansbrough.

Great game, very competitive, and a pleasure to watch.

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  • GoingBig

    The free throws were not just the fault of losing the game but a symptom of tightening up under pressure.

    Pressure is real and has real effects. THIS game against Miami is the next level of competition. The Raptors have to learn how to handle both the internal pressures (like increased expectations and scrutiny) and external pressures (like the solid Miami defence)

    One thing that pressure does is narrow your court vision or game vision; that can lead to too much iso-ball(as in the 4th quarter) and other effects. I hope that the Raptors are not going to slough this off as the inevitable win by Miami Heat. This was winnable and they have to learn how to win these.

    • tweed8

      Well, despite 14 straight wins now vs. Toronto, The Raptors has always said one thing, “We can play these guys.” So I don’t think they ever look at losing to Miami as inevitable.
      As fans we can look at team and say sure, sure. But, I think we also need to look at the guys speaking and give them the benefit of the doubt.

      GO Raps.

    • AT

      Great analysis of the game and good comment. This game is a good example iof why playoff ANY playoff experience for this young team is so valuable.As the fourth quarter played on, you could sense Raptors tightening up and the Heat turning it up defensively. Too bad they face the Pacers next, would have been nice to see them play a sub .500 team to keep their confidence up.

      • Tanks-a-lot

        The Heat are such a unique team.

        I think the Raptors could learn to beat the Heat if given consecutive games to make adjustments like in a playoff series.

      • What the

        “too bad they face the pacers next” I’m fine with the Raptors facing the Pacers next, every game that we play should be played like a playoffs style game and we should treat these two games as playoffs style road games. Raps will win it’s all about the road and Casey has got to show his boss that he can take this team into hostile territory for two games on the ROAD and come away with a win.

  • RPT23

    I think, playing the Pacers next is crucial in the development in their game and mentality. Constantly playing top competition will only make this young core grow better. Of course, sprinkle in a few “winnable games” (if there are any coming soon) and it should bold well for the future. Excellent write up and it’s exactly what I was thinking…


    • Nilanka15

      I think those “winnable” games will be the real key. That is, maintaining razor-sharp focus vs. the crappy teams (the ones that are tougher to get motivated for).

      Raps passed the first test nicely vs. Washington, but it needs to continue.

      • Andrey

        I agree I’m actually more worried about these kinds of games lool

  • Bendit

    An accurate portrayal of the game. The flow was indeed that of a playoff game and will be good to examine and use as a teaching tool by the coaches. It was after all against the best and on their court.

  • Pong

    I look forward to the day JV does something else other than his pump fake as his first move at the high post. It’s getting extremely predictable, and it only works 1 out of 10 times. It’s like a habitual behavior. Overall he’s quite decisive when positioned at the low post, it’s at the high post that he seems conflicted with what he wants to do. If JV becomes more confident with that foul line jumper, it can really open up some options for him.

  • SR

    The missed opportunity clearly came down to:
    – missed free throws
    – offensive rebounding
    – tired legs in the 4th quarter

    The really encouraging bit is that all those are not only correctable, but are usually strengths for this team. All of them. Play that game again with the Raps’ typically good free throw shooting, offensive rebounding, and 4th quarter high gear, and a W is very attainable.

    That said – don’t be fooled – Miami has a couple extra gears to kick it into. Had the Raps cleaned up some of that sloppiness, there’s no telling how the Heat would have responded. As usual, the Heat did what they needed to do to win.

    Still a big positive to see the Raps play them so well and shoot the lights out for 3 quarters against a great defensive team.

    • baxter

      @SR:disqus I couldn’t agree more, 3/4 quarters ain’t nothing to shake a stick at, and yes, Miami had more gears – but chances are if the Heat needed to respond, their response would be quite predictable -give the rock to LeBron and get #outtadaway.

    • alboy

      -The offensive rebounding I thought was a choice of DC to prevent Miami’s fastbreak points and it did work for a good part of the game .
      The defensive rebounding though was really problematic as the Heat did get a lot of second chance opportunities , but I’m sure the Raps will fix that , at times it was only lack of concentration and a little bit of confusion (Ray Allen offensive board with 4 raps around).

      – the 4th quarter (and the 3rd too) depended most on Miami’s tightened defence than in Raps tired legs IMHO , I’ve seen a lot of Miami’s game and the first half they try to win with their talent offensively (incredible efficiency) while the second half they win the half (and the game) with their defence , they’re incredibly fast , athletic ,with long arms and know each other very well so they trust their rotations . That’s what they did the last game , only that in the 3rd the Raps did make some pretty tough shots while in the 4th they bouced out of the rim .

      I do agree with the general idea of your post though , the Heat probably would have won this game whatever the raps did because of the difference of exp : the Heat has already been there , they know each other pretty well and they know how to win matches . The Raps on the other side have no PO experience (some guys are so young they don’t even have a lot of regular season exp) , are still figuring each other after the trade (and that was a major reason for me that the bench went demolished by the Heat bench) and are still finding their ways to finish tough games .

      For the Raps it was almos a PO game experience , for a Heat a game to test how much of a challenge would be playing in the PO against Toronto (that’s why LBJ was crying throughout the game and they did play Wade in a back-to-back).

      Sorry for my English

      • alboy

        Another stat I forgot to include : the Heat defence tightened (Raps went 6 of 21 in the 4th) , but the Raps also defended pretty well (Heat went 7 of 21 in the 4th) and at the end only the details made the difference with the Heat making some crucial FT and a couple of J’s while Amir did miss his layup .
        Like I said , Heat have already did there and know how to win by making this details go their way , the Raps are working to find out

  • More trade rumors about Kyle ..They aren’t really serious are they?

    • JayTeam

      I’m sure multiple teams have made and are still making inquiries and I’m sure they are serious about trading for him. My guess is that as long as the Raps keep playing at this level, he stays and Ujiri would be looking to add rather than subtract, UnfortunatelyI think that will be difficult, if not impossible, without including future assets

      • baxter

        Raps are steadily earning league respect. Masai won’t disrupt that unless the deal is too good to be true. When the time is right, I could see JL heading to OKC, but only if Reggie Jackson is part of the deal. And given the recent play of Reggie, #itainthappeninganytimesoon! Could be a good place for Fields to land too, if the Raps hold back a whole lot of salary.

    • Nilanka15

      Any links?

  • baxter

    Thx Zarar for another fantastic RR perspective, your posts have become part of my daily routine! Validated Learning ftw, perhaps a heck of a lot of Playoff Foreshadowing too? Should we face the Heat in the playoffs, last night shows #rtznation that we can rely on JL to outmatch Chalmers and Cole (#allday). on Amir to draw double coverage inside the offensive paint vs Bosh/Birdman/Haslem (which needs some serious exploitation Coach Casey/staff!), JV to protect our rim and DD to draw fouls and (hopefully) make FTs. We lost a pleasure to watch yesterday, what we need come playoffs is a defensive answer to LeBron, a healthy Hansbrough and a way for Casey to outwit Spoelstra (exhausted starters, net offensive boards, strategic offensive sets that limit the Heat’s transition game, less perimeter and more interior offence, and a way to keep the Heat sub 100 points (Beasley had some super easy buckets). I don’t think Casey wanted to win this battle, he may be more focused on winning the war.

    Something else weird happened last night…Fields got 4 mins of floor time #itsbeenawhile. True Ross got suckered into 2 quick fouls by King James and putting Fields out there for 4 mins could be nothing, but my gut is telling me that there is more to the Fields story. Would love your thoughts on it. Rather than toss Ross into the deep end vs James, perhaps we missed a chance to showcase Fields’ ability to limit LeBron? The Hawks or the Spurs might be interested in such services…

  • aaron

    The raps didn’t pound the Heat inside like Indiana does. Thats the key too beating the heat when they double you have to make the extra pass inside and get the easy ones. This was DD’s mistake tonight as he had a few times in the 4th quarter where he missed making the right pass too JV or Amir and they didn’t get good quality chippies. Live and learn with the new young and hungry Raps.

  • RapFan

    That Miami D is really like an Engage 8 in the NFL, the way they blitz the ball handlers. Can’t wait for the playoffs.

  • Mexiballer

    I cant prove it but I thought It was a case of nerves in the fourth quarter. I saw tightening up and reverting back to old hábits. Almonte as If todo say ” oh shit…seré about to beat Miami Heat World Champions no their home court. Aré we really that good?” It can happen to young teams who are on the upswing becoming comfortable with being a really good team. Beatería nos then in the playoffs.

  • morgan c

    Zarar, outstanding write-up. Thanks!

  • ManInTheMiddle

    Nice write up Zarar.

  • Louvens Remy

    I am so happy.