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Throw out the percentages – this is Game 7

Nobody wants a game seven, even with home court advantage. After all, anything can happen, right? It’s just one game. Winner move on, while the loser goes home. As a casual NBA fan catching some exciting Sunday playoff action, this is about as exciting as it gets. For the die-hard Raptor fan, the 7-game tradition we have seemed to put upon ourselves no matter how inferior the competition may be, has become something of a trademark of the post-season. And while the first round series against Indiana certainly proved that the Raptors were making it tough on themselves, this time around against a more talented and balanced Heat team, Miami’s got at least something to do with it.

But really, what makes game 7 so stressful even in cases where teams are better than their opponent? The reality is that in a one-game elimination, sample sizes don’t really matter. The percentages, while important for strategizing purposes and to put yourself in the best position to win, simply cannot be relied upon to determine a winner. In other words, you can use it for your game plan, but I wouldn’t exactly wager on these percentages. Teams could be “better” on paper, but today, almost none of the on-paper stuff is going to matter.

A one-game sample size, as NCAA and NFL fans know and love, is what usually generates upsets – on any given day, any team can beat any other team in a game 7. Having said all of that, not to contradict myself, but simply for the sake of at least our personal understanding and analysis, let’s take a deep dive into some of the numbers. And then, we’ll look at what’s likely to play a more important role in actuality.

While I don’t really like taking a look at “all-time” stats for a team (I mean really, is there any relationship between this team and the team of the early 2000s?), I’ll do it anyway. Such stats, while helpful for building a narrative coming into games, are pretty meaningless in practicality.

All-time game 7 records

  • The Raptors are an all-time 1-2 in Game 7’s (1-1 at home, 0-1 on the road)
  • The Heat are an all-time 6-3 in Game 7’s (6-2 at home, 0-1 on the road)

Hence, while some of the writers may claim the Heat have never won a road Game 7, really, they’ve only played 1 (against the Hawks back in 2009 before LeBron joined Miami). I’d also argue that means the Heat are even better, given they’ve been the home team in 8 of the 9 of the Game 7’s they’ve played. Note, however, LeBron was there for 3 of those Game 7’s, and went 3-0 in his time in Miami.

Again, nothing to be taken from this point other than the wealth of experience Miami has playing these games in recent years with guys like Wade, Haslem and of course, Erik Spoelstra, as core members of those teams. Oh yeah, and they won their game 7 this year against the Hornets as well (after gutting out an elimination game in Charlotte just a couple of nights prior).

For the Raptors, I’d say the most recent game 7s against Brooklyn in 2014 and against the Pacers in round 1 are the most telling, with the Raps going 1-1 in that timeframe. While there’s pressure on the Raptors this time around, playing in the second round and not having to exorcise first-round playoff demons in a game 7, will hopefully help the Raptors play a bit more free and loose than we have come to expect from this team in a game 7.

Raptors day game playoff record

Much was made of the afternoon game to start the Indiana series, likely due to the Raptors’ poor start in earlier day games. In fact, in playoff games that start before 4 pm, the Raptors are a staggering 0-13. Keep in mind, the Raptors did close out a 5 pm tip in game 3 against Miami, so it’s not going to be impossible, but this is just another psychological element they’ll have to overcome today. Playing at 3:30 pm is out of rhythm for the Raptors, who started even Sunday home games this year at only 6 pm, but quite simply, it’s the playoffs and it’s got to be done.

Raptors record after losing a playoff game

The Raps are 5-0 this post-season in “bounce-back” games (games after a loss). Under such circumstances, the Raptors have shown a clear ability to regroup, re-strategize, make adjustments between games (something Casey has gotten better at over the years), and pound the rock once again. I expect the Raptors to put out a desperate fight at the very least, with the rest to be determined by Miami. That guy Dwyane Wade might have something to with that.

Raptors record when leading a playoff series

On the other hand, the Raps seem to stink when they’re up in a series. Toronto is 0-7 all-time in playoff games where they are already up by a game. That’s pretty atrocious, and likely a sign (especially in the current year, with the best team in franchise history, going 0-4 this post-season already in such situations) that they don’t have the mental fortitude to put a team away. The close-out games are always the toughest, but the Raptors have seemed to have trouble in creating true separation from their opponents as well – a sign that the team tends to sag back into losing habits after a win. I would say this is a bad thing, but hey, the series is tied 3-3. At least they won’t be leading going into this one, right?

Dwyane Wade

The Dwyane Wade narrative has basically written itself this post-season. Wade is 5-2 in playoff game 7s, and with a marvelous game 6 performance leading to a close-out of Charlotte in game 7 of their first round series, Dwyane Wade has now averaged 19 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists these playoffs, and specifically against the Raptors, Wade has averaged over 25 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. The dude has been an assassin on a mission.

And watch out for the second half, as Wade has been averaging almost 16 of his 25 points a game in the second half, on 54% from the field. That’s just ridiculous – if the Raptors go into halftime with anything less than a 30+ point lead, you can virtually guarantee a virtuoso Wade performance to close the contest

The Likely Key Factors

While all of the above is interesting to note and read about, the amount of noise in such statistics (not adjusted for changing team members, changing levels of opposition, etc.), the results are pretty meaningless. At the end of the day, absolutely anything can happen today – and DeMar and Kyle, the leaders of the team by far, I would anticipate know that very well.

Hence, I’ll point to the below factors, likely the more logical choices of things the Raptors should look to do (things they can actually control), that will probably impact the outcome of this game more so than playoff demons of the past:

– The Lowry/DeRozan onslaught: When either one of Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan play well in a playoff game, the Raptors are always going to have a chance. While it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a victory, as we saw in game 6, it means the Raptors will always have at least a slight edge on offense. On defense, it’ll be key for both DeMar and Kyle to stay out of foul trouble.

– The Bench productivity: While Kyle and DeMar are the engines of the offense, the play of DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, etc. will be a huge factor for the Raps today. The Heat bench is simply not being able to stay with the Raptors bench, usually beginning in the second quarter of these games. I’d say if the Raptors go with the Lowry and bench lineup to start the second (barring Lowry’s foul trouble), that might be a huge shot in the arm to wind down the first half. Closing quarters has also been an issue.

– Winning the rebounding battle: Losing the rebounding battle has spelled trouble for the Raps in this series. While the Raptors can play bigger from a lineup perspective without Whiteside in the lineup for the Heat, the Heat still are individually bigger at the wings and at point guard making it hard for the Raptors to come up with the 50/50 balls and long rebounds off of missed shots that are so crucial for the swing of momentum in a game. While the Raps defense on Miami has been stellar, evidenced by Miami’s poor shooting and turnovers, rebounds are the equalizer for Miami. The Raptors are going to have to show all-out desperation mode on the glass in order to hold off the Heat attack.

The battle for all the marbles today will be dependent on a few other items as well, such as Casey’s mid-game substitution patterns and recognition, the play of role players such as McRoberts, Stoudemire, etc., but one thing won’t really change – no matter how much Coach Casey or anyone analyzes the percentages, it’s going to be hard to give time for things to regress to their mean. Through the inevitable surprises and ups and downs of an NBA game, having just 1 game decide the playoff fate of 2 teams is cruel, but necessary. Get ready for a dogfight.

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