Gavin and Zarar start things off and Will makes an appearance midway through to talk Game 5 which saw DeMar DeRozan return to being a functional basketball player, just in time to setup a potential Game 6 close-out in Miami.
Their nights weren’t perfect, but they were closer to what the team has come to expect from their stars. It was their highest combined point total of the playoffs and the best they’ve played as a duo, at least in this series. That’s huge.
“Couldn’t even tell you,” DeRozan said, laughing, when asked what changed. “We just try to go out there and be aggressive…Shots just wasn’t dropping for us…We were just going to continue being aggressive.”
In terms of what changed, Casey thought the Raptors getting the transition game going early helped.
“I thought that was the difference to start the game. That’s a very prideful team,” Casey said. “We were able to get out and get some easy points off our defense. I thought it helped Kyle’s rhythm, it helped DeMar’s rhythm, to get out in transition like that and get some easy buckets.”
As for Casey’s RIDE OR DIE faith in them? Vindicated, for a night.
“They’re our guys. We can disparage them all we want to and talk about how bad their shooting is. You don’t forget how to score the basketball,” he said. “It’s gonna come back. They’ve carried us the entire season and not one time did we doubt their ability to score the basketball.”
All season long, we spoke of the playoffs serving as a referendum on this core. Improbably, despite how poorly Lowry and DeRozan have shot, they still have a chance to make the deepest run in franchise history. They might even play a half-decent offensive game at some point. Dream big.
Just know, Ujiri does not, to borrow a phrase, need to live or die with the result. There is enough evidence already for him to be making decisions in his mind that he will have to formally make in the summer. Now, enjoy the chaos, madness and, yes, the missed jumpers.
The core flaw in the Raptors offense is that a defender has to worry about one thing and one thing only. Since the Raptors essentially run a two-man game with three guys stagnant every time, help on any drives is always easy to provide, and the other three defenders don’t have to worry about chasing their own man while the two-man action is happening. We’re letting them off the hook buy not moving without the ball, setting off-the-ball screens, and generally speaking, not putting enough pressure on the defense except from the point of attack.
Carroll was limited to just 26 games during the regular season due to arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He played through most of the playoffs with multiple injuries last year, so it stands to reason that if there’s any way he physically can, he’ll return.
Luol Deng also left the game with a left wrist injury and will not return. X-rays were inconclusive.
Maybe the spiritual aspect of it only applies for fans, but if we’re being fully honest, no matter how old he is, Wade still terrifies us. He’s been amazing in the playoffs and he’s a killer in the clutch. I wouldn’t blame the players for being afraid, either.
But Biyombo wasn’t shook. He never is. He made that clear from Game 5 of the season when he stood toe-to-toe with Russell Westbroook, then iterated after the game that he wasn’t going to get punked. Look, the Raptors get punked a lot, so to have someone stand up for the team, that was huge. He’s kept that mentality all year, and I truly believe it’s made the team mentally tougher.
Wade was a 34-year-old trying to dunk from the dotted line against one of the best shot blockers in the league and he got his ass handed to him. Not only that, Biyombo had the gall to wag the finger. Wade wasn’t going to punk the Raptors, not that time. Not on Biyombo’s watch.
Or maybe that’s all bogus. Then let’s just focus on the tangibles.
Biyombo was incredible on defense. He had four blocks and two steals, he contested a game-high 15 shots and the Heat only scored on six of their baskets that he challenged.
As a team Miami made just 45.4 percent from inside the restricted area. But that doesn’t even tell the whole story — Heat players were afraid to drive to the basket when they knew Biyombo was lurking.
After having his shot blocked, Wade looked like an awkward teenager trying to sneak into a club with a fake ID — he had to gather his courage before inevitably getting bounced by Biyombo.
Lowry and DeRozan came in averaging 32.7 points per game in the playoffs. They combined for 59. DeRozan, who went 1-for-4 from the line in Game 4 and 2-for-8 in Game 2, hit all 11 of his free throws, including 8-for-8 in the final 3:16, and shot 11-of-22. Lowry shot 9-for-25, but added 10 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. They kept warning us about what would happen when they were themselves, and it was almost as much of a prayer as a declaration: If we get going, watch out.
And then it happened, finally. Lowry and DeRozan scored 19 of Toronto’s first 23 points, feeding off Toronto’s defence, and they scored Toronto’s last 13. Their start radiated outwards, and it was like squirrelling away nuts for the winter, and the winter came. Toronto led 82-69 with 8:18 to go, and with 1:54 left it was nearly gone. Lowry had pushed the first half. DeRozan kept Toronto afloat in the third. They were there at the end.
“They’re all-stars,” said Miami’s Dwyane Wade, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. “It was going to happen at some point.”
DeRozan came in with a team-high usage number of 30.4 per cent and a player efficiency rating of 9.1, after recording a 21.5 in the regular season. Essentially, nobody else had borne a heavier percentage of the team’s offensive plays, and only Luis Scola and 10 minutes of Delon Wright had been less efficient. In this game DeRozan started so well, then veered inelegantly into inefficiency. This time, he veered back.
The Raptors are running out of bodies. Everyone is. You can’t wait for Jonas Valanciunas to come back.
“You have to read how the game is going, the rhythm of the game. If the ball isn’t going in for you, do you keep … do you hurt the team?” Casey asked, likely referring to the damage done by forcing up shots when that isn’t working.
“There’s other things you can do. And again, they’re trying to do it, it’s not easy, that’s who they are, that’s who we’ve been, but there’s other guys, too. (Terrence Ross) is shooting the ball really well the other night so let’s find him, let’s get him open, let’s get other guys looks. We had (Jonas Valanciunas) but we don’t have J.V. now so we’ve got to go to another plan to get other offensive players involved to score the basketball.”
Casey had a simple message to DeRozan, specifically: “Nothing wrong with running the floor, getting them in transition, getting the easy buckets, sweat buckets.”
DeRozan heeded that call early on in Game 5, getting four buckets inside in the first quarter on his way to 10 points. DeRozan also grabbed a couple of rebounds and handed out an assist while playing viable defence. It was highly encouraging stuff, though he faltered significantly from there, missing his next five shots and struggling with turnovers.
Still, it was an encouraging development and offered proof of the good things happening by diversifying that Casey had talked about.
And move forward we do, to that Wednesday night win, when Biyombo was on the floor for almost the entire final 10 minutes as the Heat went with an uber small lineup yet again and attempted a comeback. Biyombo drew two fouls down that stretch and kept the Heat from earning easy baskets or fouls of their own under the Raptors rim, forcing Miami to take contested jump shots from well outside the paint.
He finished the night having played nearly 38 minutes, by far the most he’s seen in any game of these playoffs. And although his stat line won’t jump off the page at you — he finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots — his mere presence under both baskets and on screens was absolutely crucial to the Raptors’ 99-91 victory.
“I thought he was solid from a physicality standpoint; setting solid screens. He set the tone that way,” Casey said. “He did an excellent job in the paint. Joe Johnson’s a handful and when Dwyane Wade gets going he’s a handful, too. I thought Bismack’s presence at the pick-and-roll was huge for us. That was very important.”
Like Biyombo said, it appears the learning process took place. While Casey had plenty of reason to experiment with matching the Heat’s small lineup of wings and guards during Game 4 — especially with Lowry out of the game — it was clear from Game 5 that the Raptors best counter to that Heat rotation is one that includes Biyombo’s big body protecting the rim.
Biyombo led — and his teammates followed — from the start and kept it up through 38 minutes of play in what was by far his best performance since the Indiana series.
“I think it speaks for itself, the energy that he brings on both ends is amazing, especially when he did the Usain Bolt — that type of thing gets us going,” DeMar DeRozan said when asked about Biyombo’s influence, which included setting many good screens for DeRozan and Lowry.
“Honestly, when Bismack is being himself, just kind of showing his charisma.”
Biyombo blocked four shots in all, scored 10 points — punishing Miami for going small — and while he only grabbed six rebounds, the three offensive boards were each massive moments. He carved out space for Kyle Lowry to pull down 10 rebounds.
Time after time, Biyombo’s non-stop effort level bailed out poor offensive possessions. When Lowry and DeRozan weren’t on their torrid shooting runs, the offence really broke down on a number of occasions.
Often, Biyombo was there to give the team new life.
Not only did he keep the Heat from scoring at the basket, but Biyombo was a huge part of a stretch of 11 straight Toronto scores in the second quarter, scoring eight of his 10 points. When he rolled to the rim with a little space, in the half-court and in transition, no weak-side Miami defender could handle him. The Raptors’ bigs also helped their team register 22 second chance points, grabbing six offensive boards and drawing four loose ball fouls under their basket.
“We’re putting bodies on them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re getting thrown around and they were able to get some important extra possessions. We had some advantages the other way. That’s the give and take of it. Tonight, they were able to take advantage of it.”
“Our physicality, our playing through stuff,” Casey said, “allowed us to stay big, to stay with what we were doing and with our game plan.”
Game 5 was the easily the best combined performance from Lowry and DeRozan in this postseason. The Raptors don’t win on Wednesday if their stars don’t play big. But they’re also one win from the first trip to the conference finals in franchise history because … they played big.
Size matters, as long as you keep it on the floor.
Wade needs help, but everyone has known about Miami’s limited scoring.
Luol Deng hurt his wrist in the third, never to return, and someone other than rookie Josh Richardson needs to step up.
Truth be told, if the Raptors had executed better in previous game, this series would have been over in five games. Miami knew Toronto would make adjustments and the biggest was how the Raptors kept their bigs on the floor when Miami went small.
This time, it worked for the Raptors.
And now it’s the Heat that must adjust with its backs to the wall.
Mind you, the way this series has played out, no one will be surprised if the teams are back in Toronto for Sunday’s Game 7.
Elimination games are what fuel Wade, who went off in Game 6 against Charlotte.
Now, the Heat must be at its best for two straight.
DOWN TO THE WIRE, AGAIN
With the injuries mounting for both teams, the Heat made its run, cutting a 12-point lead down to five: 84-79 with 4:15 to go. DeRozan checked back in with 4:17 left and enough time for Wade to go to work and try to steal the game. He rolled past Cory Joseph and calmly hit a 15-footer to cut Toronto’s lead to three. A touch foul called on Lowry got Wade to the line, where he cut the lead to one with 1:45 left. After a pair of DeRozan free throws and a Heat turnover, Lowry tried to douse the comeback with a tough, clutch three-pointer with 52.5 seconds left, putting his team up by six. He ran down the clock and coolly hit a fading jumper from outside the key with 23.7 left to extend the lead to eight, for his 25th point. DeRozan’s free throws put the game away.
The Raptors won Game 5 99-91 thanks almost entirely to their all-star backcourt. The pair combined to score the Raptors’ last 13 points as Toronto held off the Heat in the final four minutes of another tense game in what has been a tense, physical series, if lacking a little in aesthetics.
They made it sound like any questions about their suitability for the job of deciding post-season games were misplaced. They made it sound like the trials of late April and early May were temporary.
The Raptors led by as much as 20 in the first half – 13 at the start of the fourth quarter and seven with four minutes left – but had their lead cut to one with 1:54 remaining, an ominous sign in a series where no lead has been safe and three of the first four games went to overtime.
Never worry. Lowry stepped up with a big three with 53 seconds to play after forcing a Goran Dragic turnover to put Toronto up by six, and then another jumper with 23 seconds left to seal it.
“Knowing the situation at hand, me and DeMar are our closers and we’ve been our closers all year,” said Lowry, who finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals. “So if he had the opportunity to get the shot I’m sure he would have tried to make it and he would have taken it with confidence and we would have confidence in him, and it’s vice versa for me.”
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 12, 2016
Lowry and DeRozan may have been banged up, but in this ugly, gut-it-out series they were determined to gut it out and carry their team to victory.
Lowry sported cuts over both his eyes, prompting Raptors coach Dwane Casey to say afterward that his 30-year-old point guard looked like a boxer. DeRozan said it felt like someone was using a blowtorch on his injured right thumb.
After scoring just 19 points combined in Game 4, Lowry and DeRozan put the Raptors on their backs in Game 5, scoring a combined 59 points as Toronto took a 3-2 lead in its second-round matchup with the Miami Heat following a 99-91 win in front of 20,155 at Air Canada Centre.
Game 6 is Friday night in Miami.
“They’re our guys. We can disparage them all we want and talk about how bad their shooting is, but you don’t forget how to score the basketball,” Casey said of his starting backcourt duo, which came in shooting just 33.1 percent from the field in the playoffs — the worst percentage for any starting backcourt pair in the past two decades, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
“It’s going to come back. When? You hope it’s within this series, but it’s going to come back,” Casey continued. “We have faith in those guys. They carried us the entire season, and now one time we doubt their ability to score the basketball. And now they have to ramp it up again for the next game.”
A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on
Lowry, not quite as dependent on his scoring to be impactful, was still struggling to score the way he did in the regular season coming into the game, but also got back on the right side of his season average with a 25-point night.
DeRozan had two big games in the Indy series — Game 3 and Game 7. Lowry scored big in Game 4 of both series but never, until Wednesday night, had the two put up scoring numbers on the same night.
“We can disparage them all we want to and talk about how bad their shooting is, but you don’t forget how to score the basketball,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s going to come back. When? You hope it’s within this series but it’s going to come back. We have faith in those guys. They carried us the entire season and now one time we doubt their ability to score the basketball …
“And now they have to ramp it up again for the next game.”
DeRozan appeared to re-injure the thumb in the fourth quarter and actually headed back to the locker room. Director of Sport Science and assistant coach Alex McKechnie was getting plenty of credit after the game for some fancy work with a shoelace, of all things, to get DeRozan able to get back in the game.
“Thousand-dollar shoelaces, that’s all I can say,” DeRozan said after the game of the rather unique treatment.
For a change the Raptors looked like they might forego the drama, but then this team is not capable of such a thing.
But it was a virtuoso, regular-season-like performance by the team’s two best players.
“We can disparage them all we want to and talk about how bad their shooting is, (but) you don’t forget how to score the basketball,” Casey said. “We have faith in those guys. They carried us the entire season and now . . . they have to ramp it up again for the next game.”
But with everything there comes a cost, and for Toronto it might be the services of starting small forward DeMarre Carroll, who left the game in the third quarter in obvious pain, clutching his left wrist.
Carroll crashed to the court after colliding with Goran Dragic on a drive to the basket, trying to break his fall with his hand. The team said X-rays were negative and that his night was over because of a left wrist contusion.
Carroll’s departure came after Miami’s Luol Deng left for the night with a wrist injury of his own. The Heat said X-rays were “inconclusive” and he will be re-examined, with an MRI on Thursday.
Despite limping into halftime with a desultory final three minutes that shaved a 20-point lead in half, the Raptors did all the things they hadn’t in the first four games.
Quick and decisive ball movement — 11 assists on 19 baskets — and defence that held Miami to 27 per cent shooting in the first quarter, and 42 per cent in the half, was reminiscent of points in the regular season.
A photo posted by Mark Vallena (@darkvallena) on
The way the Raptors start a game rarely has anything to do with how they finish it. During these playoffs, quick starts have become reverse bellwethers. On Wednesday, they burst into the contest doing all sorts of new and unusual things – people passed the ball; DeRozan made a shot; Lowry spotted up a three and didn’t sail it into the stands. Miami did not score its first point until four minutes into the game. It was all going so well, people briefly forgot to boo Wade.
How dominant was Toronto in that first quarter? DeRozan and Lowry had 19 points after 10 minutes. That’s as many as they managed in all of Game 4.
Toronto led by as many as 16 early – the largest lead for either team during the series. They grew so emboldened that that guy you sometimes see sitting on the end of the bench but don’t recognize – anonymous late-in-the-season addition Jason Thompson – was playing.
After the first frame, it was 28-18, Wade had done nothing of note and the rest of the Heat looked hung over. It was a reminder of how much better the Raptors are than the Heat when their all-stars are playing averagely well. It wasn’t even close.
Like how far apart?
When the cameras panned to famously front-running NFL receiver Terrell Owens in the crowd, Owens held up a giveaway T-shirt and waved it for the crowd. That man played for the Dallas Cowboys. He doesn’t even know how to root for a loser. Or something like that.
Taking what’s there
If the first plan doesn’t work, go to Plan B and that’s just what they did on a key inbounds play in the final 20 seconds.
After Wade scored to make it 95-91 – and causing many of us to switch screens on our computers to the “they blew it” story – the Raptors kept the ball under the basket instead of calling timeout to advance it because the inbounder could run the baseline, ostensibly to make it easier to find someone to pass to before Miami could get its defence set up.
Patterson couldn’t find anyone to pass to, though, and it was only after the subsequent 20-second timeout that they moved the ball to the frontcourt.
They spaced the floor with an inbounder, a guard in the backcourt to occupy a defender and they got the ball in easily to DeRozan in front of the Miami bench and he made two of his eight big late-game free throws when he was fouled.
A little thing and it would have been better if the ball was originally inbounded without having to blow a timeout but it just struck me as astute clock/personnel/rule management by Casey.
A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on
With his shot failing him, DeRozan looked to attack early in Game 5. He hit his next four attempts, all layups or runners in the paint, before missing his next five. Then something happened. He knocked down a three-pointer, his first in five games, then got a 17-footer to fall, then another, then another. By the time he picked up his fourth foul eight minutes into the second half, he had scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the third quarter.
DeRozan was back.
“He was just persistent trying to get his shot,” Dwane Casey said of DeRozan, who matched a playoff career high with 34 points in the Raptors’ 99-91 win over the Heat to take a 3-2 lead in the series. “He used his athletic ability, speed and quickness. He wasn’t hesitating, he was very decisive and that’s the way he has to play.”
While his confidence may have returned, it’s not exactly like the discomfort in his shooting hand just disappeared. To his own admission, DeRozan has had difficulty gripping the ball, shooting free throws – he was 10-for-20 from the line in three games coming into Wednesday’s contest – and, ironically, even tying his shoes.
He had experimented with wearing a brace during practices and pre-game warmups but couldn’t get used to it. So the team got creative. In timeouts DeRozan was spotted wrapping a single shoelace around his sore thumb, an attempt to keep the swelling down. It was painful.
“It just felt like a blowtorch on my hand,” he said. “That’s all.”
“It worked, though.”
ANOTHER NAIL-BITING FINISH
Like the previous four games in this series, the fourth quarter of Game 5 was a nail-biter. Miami found its shooting touch, shooting 56 percent from the floor in the quarter, including 50 percent from beyond the arc as Josh Richardson contributed nine quick points off the bench. Toronto’s offence slowed down and the team shot just 35 percent from the floor, but Lowry and DeRozan had All-Star finishes to close out the game. Lowry scored seven points in the fourth, five coming in a 30-second span to keep the Raptors ahead with less than a minute to go. DeRozan scored 13 points in the quarter and was a perfect 9-for-9 from the line as he closed out the game on free throws.
A video posted by raptorsdancepak (@raptorsdancepak) on
On the backs of their best players, the Raptors are ahead again in the Eastern Semifinal, beating the Heat in Game 5, 99-91. I’m joined by Harsh Dave and William Lou from The Score and Raptors Republic to discuss the game, including huge nights from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the first half explosion punctuated by Bismack Biyombo, and how injuries to DeMarre Carroll and Luol Deng could change Game 6.
Wade, who was booed every time he touched the basketball by the Raptors faithful for taking a little extra shooting practice during the Canadian national anthem before Game 3, led the Heat with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes.
Early on, he was looking for something to energize the Heat’s cause. So, trailing by 17 midway through the second quarter, he exploded toward the rim, looking for that rim-rattling dunk that might wake Miami up. Instead, he found Bismack Biyombo’s left hand.
The 6-9, 255-pound Raptors center swatted Wade’s shot and then wagged his finger at the 12-time All-Star like fellow Congolese shot-blocker Dikembe Mutombo used to do to his victims.
In an Eastern Conference semifinal series devoid of both team’s starting centers, Biyombo stood tallest Wednesday night — in large part because the Heat played its three reserve centers, Amar’e Stoudemire, Josh McRoberts and Udonis Haslem, for a combined total of 31 minutes and went small for most of the game.
A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on
The Toronto Raptors jumped out to a 9-0 lead against the Miami Heat and built a 20-point lead. Miami fought all the way back, even closing the gap to 88-87 with one minute and 54 seconds left.
The Heat came all the way back, but fell just short. With 1:15 left, Goran Dragic lost the ball on a broken possession, committing a costly turnover. Kyle Lowry hit a 3 on Toronto’s subsequent possession, putting the Raptors up 93-87 with 53 seconds left. After a Wade pull-up, Lowry iced the game with a jumper of his own with 23.7 seconds left to go. Toronto held on to win, 99-91.
And now the Heat players stand in the same position they found themselves in the first round against Charlotte Hornets — down 3-2 in the playoff series, needing to win a home game and a road game to advance.
Only this time, the Heat probably won’t have Hassan Whiteside. Or Luol Deng.
“You have to come with a counter,” Wade said. “You have to have counters. And in the playoffs, now we’re in Game 5, you countered, you have to have another counter. So I always go into a game understanding, ‘OK, if they take this away, what else do I have?’ And if they take that away, what else do I have?’”
Well, now, after another disjointed offensive performance, and another potentially disastrous injury to a core player — this time Luol Deng — it’s a reasonable question to ask the Heat:
What else does it have?
What else, after this 99-91 loss in Game 5?
We’ll find out Friday, as this often-unwatchable exercise in attrition returns to South Florida.
Why does the Heat have hope it can come back from down 3-2 in a series?
“We did it already,” Goran Dragic said.
A photo posted by Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) on
3. Super-small ball
It’s been five games now and the Heat have yet to figure anything out on offense. The ball movement was once again bad, with Miami finishing with just 12 assists, but it did sort of get better as the game went on.
Why? Well, Miami went to its super-small, sans big man lineup early and often, with Deng and then Winslow (after Deng got hurt) at center.
It was ugly at first, with bodies and limps all over the place and not in a particularly helpful way… not unlike a children’s soccer game.
Eventually, with more time together, it looked like they found a rhythm and even held their own on the defensive end and on the boards against the Raptors, who kept Bismack Biyombo in against Miami’s all-wing group.
Perhaps the biggest issue of all for DeRozan is his struggle from the free-throw line, both in getting there and converting.
He ranked sixth among guards in Free Throw Rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempt) this season at .474. His 8.4 attempts per 36 minutes were second only to James Harden’s 9.6.
In the playoffs, his Free Throw Rate is just .298, and he’s converting just 73.8% of the time (compared to 85% in the regular season).
Things are off for DeRozan, but at least he’s got Bob Cousy beat.
The Cooz, routinely and widely regarded as on of the best NBA point guards of all-time owned a career field goal percentage of 37.5%, quite easily the worst mark of the 63 players with 15,000 career field goal attempts. In the playoffs, he shot 34.2% on 2,016 attempts. He’s the only player (of 36 to attempt 2,000 playoff field goals) with a mark worse than 40%.
At least you’ve got him beat, DeMar.
But you’re going to need to turn things around if you want to chip away at the six NBA titles he’s got.
Lowry took care of the beginning and the end, but the game really belonged to DeMar DeRozan. Maligned these entire playoffs, thrown to the wolves by fair-weather fans who chalked his injured thumb up to ‘just another built-in excuse’ and have already started drawing up scenarios for next season wherein he’s no longer a Raptor, DeRozan shook everything off and came through when his team needed him most. Despite briefly leaving after his injured thumb took contact in the fourth, DeRozan played big all night, finishing 11-22 from the floor and 11-11 from the free throw line. He put up 34 points and looked good doing it, for the most part. The turnaround fade-aways were noticeably absent. He took the ball into the paint, shot with his momentum going towards the basket, generated contact and got to the line. While he still took a couple contested long two’s, and had some noticeable hiccups handling the ball (see: end of 2nd quarter) it was the game the Raptors needed from him.
It wasn’t perfect, but it sure felt good.
At times, the offense actually looked fantastic. Free flowing offense headed by Kyle Lowry and DeRozan creating is what the Raptors used to run such a strong offense in the regular season. Tonight, Lowry was masterful, scoring 25 points and adding 6 assists. He shot an inefficient 9-25, but was timely in his buckets and gave the team the extra lift it needed at some crucial moments.
Aside from the backcourt, Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joseph combined for 19 efficient points. The rest of the team was pretty lackluster offensively. The offense went through some serious droughts at times in the 4th, with the Raps playing tentative, almost trying to just tick away the clock. 16 assists is still on the low side.
This was as close as they’ve been to normal during the second season. And it could not have happened at a more critical time.
The Raptors couldn’t simply scrap their offensive strategy at this point, regardless of how bad the guards’ shooting woes grew. With no Jonas Valanciunas (out for the series with a sprained ankle) and DeMarre Carroll not up to speed after losing three months to knee surgery, Toronto couldn’t force an ancillary scorer to take on a larger role.
Lowry and DeRozan would go down swinging if they had to. Even at far less than peak efficiency, they still packed the Raptors’ strongest punch.
“Ain’t got no choice right now. Ain’t got no hesitation in my game right now,” Lowry said, per Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star. “I don’t think I can be worse than 31 percent, so might as well keep firing away.”
It’s the kind of confidence Toronto couldn’t be without.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey can’t coach around a suddenly frigid showing from his nightly suppliers of 44-plus points. If DeRozan and Lowry failed to ignite, Toronto’s playoff run would be extinguished.
“Even though we played so poorly in the first half, you felt it would come down to a possession game down the stretch. And it did. And they made more plays down the stretch,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, per Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel.
“That was big to come out like that against a very proud team,” Casey said. “And we ran early. It helped the rhythm of Kyle and DeMar to get some easy buckets, because this is a tough defense.”
It’s almost inconceivable that any team could survive in the playoffs, let alone be in a good position to win their second playoff series while losing 14 points a game in scoring — the difference between Lowry and DeRozan’s regular season and playoff scoring averages.
Now, it would be easy to suggest that Casey deserves some of the blame for his all-star’s struggles. Except it’s hard to lay that at his feet when Lowry confessed to a crisis of confidence so searing he declared it “mind boggling” after Game 1, a game the Raptors very nearly won with Lowry playing one of the worst of his career.
And while Casey has tried a variety of approaches with DeRozan — from benching him down the stretch to starting him off the ball to working to help him figure out how to manage a league-wide decision (it seems) by referees to no longer reward him with free throws — this is a seven-year veteran with a green light who is shooting 32 per cent from the floor since he sprained his right thumb at the end of Game 2.
More concerning? He shot 33 per cent in the first round when his thumb was perfectly fine.
That’s the value of Deng in a nutshell: he can basically defend all five positions. An NBA team shouldn’t be able to get away with playing Udonis Haslem in a playoff game at this point of his career, but the Heat are able to avoid mismatches by making sure Deng defends the most problematic scorer. Even if the Heat aren’t playing small ball, he’s a perfectly good option to defend a leading scorer like DeMar DeRozan.
Speaking of DeRozan, he will make considerably more money than Deng this summer. In fact, he’s still likely to receive a maximum contract despite a horrible playoff showing thus far. Youth is a pretty big factor in the discrepancy; Deng is 31 and DeRozan is 26.
That said, the way things have developed in the past few months, it looks like building around DeRozan would be a much more difficult proposition than getting value out of Deng. DeRozan cannot slide into the role of Deng. He’s an average defender when guarding someone his size, but he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of scoring point guards or the strength to contend with post scorers. He might improve defensively over time, but he doesn’t have the size to be as versatile as Deng.
His value lies almost exclusively in his ability to score, and he’s had trouble doing so in the playoffs. It’s not that DeRozan doesn’t deserve a big contract. A team is unlikely to get through a regular season without a scorer who can get baskets without set plays. But a team’s ability to rely on a player like that once the playoffs start is increasingly difficult unless he’s transcendently good (like, say, Kobe Bryant).
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Having just spent the weekend in Miami watching this series up close, I think Miami is poised to win this. Toronto has two superstars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who are struggling with injuries, and neither can find any consistency, particularly DeRozan. Miami, meanwhile, not only has Wade playing like 2006 Wade, but also have a bunch of quasi-stars around Wade in Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Goran Dragic, who can make big shots and create for their teammates. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has talked about the Heat needing to play with pace, and they seemed to finally hit the mark at the end of Game 4 when they went super-small. So I’m most interested to see if the Heat can continue to play the way they closed out Game 4.
Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video: [email protected]