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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