Apologies for the late and weak MC; had technical difficulties and had to finish doing this on my phone which was brutal.
A trio of triples by VanVleet, Anunoby – who drew praise from Raptors head coach Nick Nurse for his defensive effort, switching among multiple Heat players in a game in which he shot just four times – and Siakam put Toronto up by four with 3:19 to play. Then Siakam found Anunoby for a dunk to push the lead to six — 91-85 — at the 2:44 mark. The Heat wouldn’t fold, but a tough Siakam fadeaway with 50.4 seconds before Trent Jr.’s big shot made the difference.
Toronto shot 39.5 per cent from the floor in the win, while holding Miami to 34.9 per cent shooting for the game and just 14 points in the pivotal quarter. Former Raptors star Kyle Lowry was 1-of-8 from the floor and heard it from the Heat crowd, with one leather lung shouting “retire.”
In all not a pretty night of basketball, but the Raptors relished the fight, and the win that came with it.
“It was great, you know, obviously coming out here early in the season will help us in the long run,” said Trent Jr. who finished with 18 points and was 4-of-12 from three. “You know we’re on the road, tough battles, having to win in the fourth quarter, having to get stops … that can all be building blocks for the season.”
While Barnes was out, Nurse at least had one more option to choose from on his largely under-used bench with the return of Boucher who proved himself an important enough reserved in the second half of last season that Toronto rewarded him with a three-year contract for $35 million.
He came in alongside Achiuwa in a pairing Nurse favoured last season for its defensive energy and potential for havoc, with enough scoring to keep things interesting.
They wasted little time as Toronto instantly went on a 13-2 run that started with a dunk by Achiuwa on a set-up from VanVleet and concluded with the second of Boucher’s corner threes in front of the Raptors bench that delighted everyone on it.
“[Boucher was] Awesome,” said Nurse. I thought he brought some speed up the floor, I thought he really ran fast and that kind of spreads to other guys … Obviously he hit a couple of shots … burst of energy that we needed.”
It was welcome as the Raptors were playing their fourth game in six nights in a tough stretch to start the season.
TYLER HERRO GOES ABOVE AND BEYOND
Herro continues to show why he deserved a pay raise this offseason. Coming into the game averaging 20 points, he scored 22 points while grabbing 15 rebounds, which tied his career-high.
SCREENS ARE VITAL
The Heat are one of the teams in the league who are known for their high pick-and-roll plays, mainly set up by center Bam Adebayo. On Monday, Adebayo set four screens, which led to 11 points.
COULDN’T STOP THE BREAK
The Raptors come into the game as one of the best teams in the league in terms of fast-break points. On Monday, the Heat failed to limit the Raptors’ fast-break opportunities, allowing them to score 27 easy points.
STRUS ISN’T READY FOR A STARTING ROLE…YET
Max Strus filled in for the suspended Caleb Martin at the forward position. However, he didn’t play at his best. He only had six points and six rebounds in 30 minutes. He missed all eight of his three-point attempts.
FOURTH QUARTER TROUBLE
The Heat had arguably their worst fourth-quarter performance of the season. Butler, who scored 21 points in the first three quarters, played just six minutes in the fourth. Herro also played just two minutes, leading to the Raptors outscoring the Heat 27-14.
The Heat used a 15-2 third-quarter run to take control of the game, thanks to aggression from Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. But after Robinson’s 3, Tyler Herro committed turnovers. The Heat lead dwindled.
Erik Spoelstra called a timeout to successfully challenge a call when Miami was clinging to an 81-80 lead with 7:21 left. He didn’t put Butler back in then. The Heat’s best player didn’t return until the 3:38 mark of the fourth quarter.
And even after coming back into the game, the Heat didn’t run offense through Butler. Both before and after Butler checked in, too much of Miami’s fourth-quarter offense consisted of isolation play that didn’t put points on the board. Herro shot just 2-for-9 from 3 Monday night. Adebayo shot just 4-of-14 from the field. They both were supposed to maintain Miami’s lead early in the fourth quarter. They didn’t do that.
Here we are — after a four-game homestand to open the NBA season, Miami is 1-3. It’s disappointing, especially considering this was such a winnable game.
The Heat went into this game without Caleb Martin and Nikola Jovic, who were both suspended. Martin instigated an altercation with Christian Koloko in the third quarter of Miami’s win over Toronto Saturday night, and Jovic left the bench area. Miami went small and started Max Strus in Martin’s place, but Strus went 0-for-8 from downtown.
The Heat went even smaller during crunch time, going with Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent and Herro with Butler and Adebayo. And the Raptors found the switches they wanted. With 50 seconds left, Pascal Siakam saw Vincent on him and early rose up for an 11-foot jumper that put the Raptors up 93-88.
This season has gotten off to a bad start for Dewayne Dedmon. When he checked into the game, Toronto exploited his lack of switch-ability and whipped the ball around to find open shooters. At one point, he was a -16 in five minutes.
The Raptors showed dominance in the first quarter, at one point went on a 10-0 run. Miami continued to come back, with sharp shooting from Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Jimmy Butler. Yet, it was that big run that helped the Raptors come out of the quarter on top.
Chris Boucher made his season debut as well, providing much needed energy off the bench. He contributed on both sides, sinking two three pointers, but was served four fouls early on and had to sit.
After the first, Toronto was up 27-23. That energy carried into the second quarter, and the Raptors found themselves up by 11. They held that lead throughout the final minutes of the half, but some messy possessions and missed shots caused the Heat to crawl back.
The half ended with the Raptors able to hold their lead. It was 48-43 for Toronto after two quarters.
As the second half started, the Raptors unfortunately fell into a third quarter slump. Miami quickly recovered from a disappointing first half and gained the lead from a 9-0 run, up 57-56. The game became one-sided in this stretch, with the Raptors breaking down defensively, and nothing really happening for them on the offensive side. The Heat capitalized on this immensely.
A scoring drought from the Raptors didn’t help, but they also recovered quickly defensively. This allowed them to stop the bleeding and not allow Miami to get to far ahead. with 2:47 left in the third, it was 65-63 for Miami.
Malachi Flynn also entered (donning his face mask) and gave the Raptors much needed energy off the bench. Gary Trent Jr scored a vital three as the clock wound down — yet, it wasn’t enough and the Heat ended the third quarter up by five, 76-71.
It was a mutual decision to part ways as the Raptors turned the page on the most successful era in franchise history and looked toward a new future with the No. 4 pick and a group of young and talented players. It seemed only logical that Miami with its core of veteran players would be a step or two ahead of Toronto.
What Lowry might not have expected was how quickly the Raptors would turn things around. After falling five games back of Miami last season, the Raptors appear every bit as good as the Heat this year. They dropped a three-point loss on a difficult back-to-back on Saturday and then rallied for a come-from-behind 98-90 win against the Heat on Monday to jump one game up on Miami early this year.
Ironically, the win wouldn’t have been possible if not for Precious Achiuwa, the key player in Toronto’s sign-and-trade package for Lowry a year ago. The third-year forward set a career-high with 22 rebounds off the bench for the Raptors, becoming just the 14th player in franchise history to record at least 20 rebounds and the first player to do so off the bench. The biggest of those rebounds came midway through the fourth quarter when Achiuwa snared an offensive board and found O.G. Anunoby for a corner three-pointer to recapture the lead for Toronto.
By leaving Toronto, Lowry also opened the door for Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet to step into bigger roles. For Siakam, that has meant dealing with plenty more defensive attention from teams and Monday was no different. The Heat repeatedly sent double and triple teams his way and while he struggled to score early, the two-time All-NBA forward flashed his playmaking skills, keeping Toronto’s offense ticking in the third quarter with a pair of assists on three-pointers by VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.
In the fourth, Siakam finally shook loose for nine of his 23-points, nailing a three-pointer of his own off a VanVleet assist before hitting a clutch fadeaway jumper to put Toronto up five with less than a minute to go.
Lowry, meanwhile, couldn’t find a groove against his old squad, connecting on just 1-for-8 from the field, finishing the game with seven points and just two assists.
Anunoby attempted just two shots through the first 37 minutes of the game, both threes and both misses. Anunoby had another basket midway through the fourth overturned in what turned out to be the pivotal moment in the ball game.
He was initially awarded the basket and a free throw but the call was challenged and was successful, which not only erased the basket, but wound up tagging a fifth foul onto Anunoby’s card.
Undeterred, Anunoby continued to do the job defensively and started to chip in offensively contributing a three-pointer in the final five minutes and an uncontested dunk to help the Raptors salt this one away.
Down the stretch it was the three ball that earned the Raptors the win.
Siakam hit one with about three minutes left to put the Raptors up by six.
The Heat whittled that back down to three before Gary Trent Jr., who had eight of his 11 attempts in the game to that point sealed it with an at-the-buzzer three on a beautiful fee through traffic from VanVleet.
It was the ninth assist of the night for VanVleet, who finished with 24 points to lead the team.
VanVleet talked about forfeiting his offensive game in order to get his teammates more shots.
And through three games he looked like he might actually be serious.
VanVleet shot attempts were down significantly from a year ago. But in Game 4 they came right back up with VanVleet joining Siakam and Trent Jr. among the biggest volume shooters on the floor.
15. Toronto Raptors (previously 13th) | 1-2 | -1.8 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Cavs, Loss at Nets, Loss at Heat
First impressions: Tough schedule for the Toronto Raptors to start, but I thought they handled themselves really well. They had a great opportunity to win the games against Brooklyn and Miami, and it just didn’t work out. There’s a lot of good to focus on with the Raptors in the first week, but Precious Achiuwa — especially against Miami — looks like an extremely versatile option. He’s doing so much off the dribble, including creating jump shots. He often looks like a guard out there, which is part of the potential Miami saw in him when it drafted him. He struggled in the other games to make shots, and we’ll see less of that when Chris Boucher is back, but it is fun to imagine what versatility their big man rotation can show if Achiuwa is developing like this.
How do they move up to Brink of Contention tier? Both ends of the floor are going to have to come together, and the Raptors will need to hold leads. The offense just isn’t quite clicking yet, but you have to expect Scottie Barnes will be involved more, and the combination of OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. will figure out making shots to space for everybody.
Players 14 62
Management 2 89
Money 12 51
Market 13 54
Draft 11 61
Buoyed by a jump in its player score and many other teams trading future draft equity, Toronto moved up three spots. That said, the league’s second-best management team, led by Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse, will have decisions to make about where to go from here. Fred VanVleet is a year away from free agency and only one player — Chris Boucher — is officially under contract for the 2024-25 season. — Bontemps