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Raptors vs. Heat had everything except a win

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TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 3: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Miami Heat goes up for the rebound during the game against the Toronto Raptors on April 3, 2022 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images)

There are certain hallmarks that need to be met for these kinds of games. You need the standing ovation. You need all the “aww shucks, I’m home” interviews. Shake hands. Kiss babies. Warm the hearts of all those watching, and hopefully you get some good basketball in addition to it. We got all that and more. The only thing missing from this one was a win for the Raptors who now fall back to the 6th seed.

Fandom has changed, and so has sports media. The amount of access fans have to these players is unprecedented, and all the different people working to bring content to them creates a tidal wave of things to interact with. As Kyle Lowry made his rounds, everything was photographed. Off court, on court, it was captured. Soft moments with teammates, the competitive bent he shares with them, and everything in between. Every smirk, grimace, wide-eyed smile, Lowry went through an emotional rollercoaster, and everyone got their time to embrace him. With his teammates it was the physical touch, and for fans it was their roars of adoration. Hell, April 3rd is now ‘Kyle Lowry Day’ in Toronto.

It was good.

We tell stories with photos, and so much of the love for Lowry is captured in these.

For the actual game? The Raptors came out swinging. Fred VanVleet seemed to recapture some of the burst that’s been alluding him since the All-Star Break (because of that nagging knee injury) to start things out. One of the subplots of Lowry’s return was the prospect of VanVleet beating his record for most threes made in a season by a Raptor (238). VanVleet came into the game with 236, and it took him roughly 6 minutes to snatch Lowry’s record away from him. He tied Lowry after his mentor tried to switch a screening action and VanVleet launched an off the bounce skyscraper. The shot that grabbed him the lead was an audacious step back on the right wing. He scored 21 points in the first half. He was remarkable.

Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes hit double digits in the first half as well. The Heat shot poorly from the floor, mustered only 45 points, and the Raptors were in a very comfortable spot. But, the Heat are the #1 seed, and they have Lowry on their squad. If anyone understands Lowry’s capacity for authoring comebacks, it’s Raptors fans.

And that’s largely what happened. The story of the second half is captured in Lowry and Herro’s ability to turn the Raptors defense, and then locate shooters; and on the other side of things, the Raptors shooters inability to provide the same level of punch as their opposition. The Heat spent 18 of their second half possessions on the 3-point shot, the Raptors 17. The Heat teased 36 points out of those, and the Raptors only managed 15. Lowry and Herro combined for 13 assists in the second half as they sprayed the ball around the Raptors end to the tune of 69 second half points.

One player on the Raptors cleared 50-percent from the floor in the second half: Pascal Siakam, who poured in 19 points the rest of the way and hit 64-percent of his looks. 15 of those came in the 4th quarter as Siakam tried to drag the Raptors along at the pace that the Heat were going. Although, the laborious isolation buckets that Siakam was pouring in came in a significantly more difficult fashion than the repeated success of Lowry and Herro as they punched holes and found shooters. You can certainly quibble with shooting variance in this one. The last time Victor Oladipo hit 6 threes in a game? 5 years ago. And on top of that, he needed 12 shots to get there, rather than the 9 he took last night. The clip was unloaded, and it was accurate. Two of them were star-studded step backs against Scottie Barnes, another one was a stationary 29-foot bomb over VanVleet and his last was a heartbreaking corner make to extend the lead to 10 with less than 2 and a half minutes to go.

The Raptors will continue to pull off the corner. They do it every game, and they’re a top-10 defense this season while doing it. They give up the most corner 3-pointers in the NBA, this is part of their calculus. The Heat just shot 17-percent better from the corners than the Raptors typically allow (54%) and 12-percent better from above-the-break (46%). They got waxed from downtown, but they made the Heat work hard enough for most of them that it’s tough to chalk it up as a failure of scheme.

At the end of it all, neither the Raptors or the Heat managed to put together a full game. However, the Heat’s run had a lot more punch and potency to it. The Raptors are no stranger to positive variance, Trent Jr. pieced together a 10-game run of 28 points-per-game on 49/49/81 shooting splits – and he did it on much tougher shots than what Strus was taking.

The fight for a higher seed continues, even though this game was a major step-back. Good things came out of it, though. Kyle Lowry quite literally had his day back in Toronto. Very cool.

Have a blessed day.

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