10 things from Raptors-Heat (no Kawhi, no problem)

Here’s 10 takeaways from the Raptors’ 125-104 win over the Miami Heat. One – Professionalism: Vegas had the treadmilling Heat as one-point favorites against a Finals contender because this was supposed to be the ultimate trap game. The Raptors spent Saturday night in South Beach after a feel-good win, Kawhi Leonard was managing that load, it was an early afternoon start after losing an hour, the Heat were on a four-game winning streak and in the midst of a tight playoff race, and yet the Raptors still handled them from start to finish. They played as a team, matched a franchise record with 21 threes, recorded 32 assists, and both the starting and bench units made positive contributions. This was a great win.

Two – KLOE: Remember when the talk coming into the season was that Kyle Lowry wasn’t committed to the Raptors? What a load of shit. He stepped up once again in Leonard’s absence and produced yet another masterful performance. Lowry was in Game 7 mode against the Heat, as he aggressively came around screens looking to shoot, ran the show for both the starting and bench lineups, pushed the tempo in transition, and was a pest defensively. He was a plus-31 in 35 minutes, which is just absurd.

Three – Chemistry: It would be too simplistic to say that Lowry is the answer for all of the second unit’s issues, but his presence definitely allowed everyone else to settle into their roles. The second unit, led by Lowry, closed out the game in the fourth as they moved the ball beautifully and defended as a unit. This performance highlighted the lack of solid playmaking on the part of the second unit, as Jeremy Lin and Norman Powell have both failed to set the table for their teammates. What they need more than anything else is a dependable ball handler who can set the tempo and get the team into their offense.

Four – On the mend: Fred VanVleet can fill that role once he returns from injury, and he’s eager to hit the ground running. VanVleet ran through drills with Marc Gasol before the game, which speaks to his commitment to winning. I can’t wait to see that tandem in action in a few weeks.

Five – Setting the table: This was a great performance by Marc Gasol, even though his statline was once again modest. The Raptors were able to pick Miami’s zone defense apart by running their offense through Gasol in the middle of the floor. Gasol positioned himself to force the Heat to help, and then he made instantaneous passes that triggered swing sequences that eventually led to open shots. I still would like to see Gasol assert himself more in terms of scoring, but this game showed how Gasol brings an added level of versatility that makes the Raptors harder to defend against.

Six – Feeding off the scraps: Jeremy Lin and Norman Powell both played their roles beautifully as finishers instead of creators. With Lowry and Gasol doing most of the playmaking, Lin and Powell did well to space the floor away from the ball, and either kept the ball moving or make decisive moves to attack the defense. Both players have a habit of overdribbling and slowing down the offense, so this was a nice change of pace.

Seven – Thriving: OG Anunoby has found his stride again as a premium 3-and-D wing. OG attacked the rim with force, made his free throws (he was shooting in the mid-twenties for a bit), and was a menace on defense while guarding 1 through 5. OG has this rare ability to stay attached even when he gets crossed up, and he’s athletic enough to always recover and contest the shot. I still think the Raptors need more depth at power forward, but OG will definitely crack the playoff rotation if he maintains his current form.

Eight – More than just hustle: Pat McCaw provided his usual dose of all-out energy, and splashed three triples, while drawing the start in Leonard’s absence. He can also become a decent 3-and-D player if he hits those corner threes with some consistency. One more thing about McCaw – he’s so skinny that it actually works for him because allows him to fight through screens. He might be the Raptors’ best on-ball defender outside of Leonard.

Nine – Coming around: Serge Ibaka has 13 blocks in his last three games, including this act of God against Kelly Olynyk.

Ten – Satisfying: On top of dominating this game from start to finish, Lowry also bodychecked Goran Dragic to win a loose ball in the third quarter which brought a smile to my face. Dragic was once a great player, but injuries have reduced him to being a glorified Matthew Dellavedova, and I just love to see it.

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