The Raptors just can’t get it right in game 1. After last night’s overtime defeat, at the hands of the Miami Heat, Toronto is now 1-9 in playoff openers. This one in particular though will really sting in the 6. It was a game Toronto had no right to send to overtime. As Josh Richardson headed to the line, with the Heat up by 6 with 20 seconds left to play, the commentary team was wrapping up the broadcast assuming the game was all but over. But in a whirlwind finish of missed free throws and botched inbound plays Kyle Lowry sent the game to OT with a desperation half court heave. However, the Raptors were shut out for the first 3:46 of overtime as Dwayne Wade took over giving Miami a 102-96 road victory.
It is hard to imagine where the Raptor’s heads are at after yet another soul crushing loss. Surely their inability to carry over the momentum they gained throughout the 4th quarter into overtime, as well as the failure to use the electric atmosphere inside the Air Canada Centre to make the fast start they needed to OT, will really hurt this team. The Raptors shot the ball horribly throughout the final three quarters but their ice cold showing in the extra period will have fans and players alike questioning their ability to handle the mental pressure of playoff basketball.
This was after Toronto made an encouraging start to the game, with DeMar Derozan hitting his first 3 shots and getting big man Jonas Valanciunas involved early. Valanciunas scored 10 of his 24 points in the first quarter, exposing Hassan Whiteside’s sometimes suspect low post defence. But an inability to keep Miami of the offensive glass, combined with DeRozan and Lowry’s frigid shooting the rest of the way, meant that Toronto never built on their positive start.
Lowry’s offensive woes have given coach Dwane Casey a real decision to make regarding his starting line up. It was fitting that the only 3 pointer Lowry hit on was his 70ft heave at the buzzer, symptomatic of his shooting problems. Whether it is the elbow injury he has been nursing or just a shooting slump, as Casey suggested in his postgame interview, Lowry is offering the Raptors very little offensively. The fact that Lowry is a top 5 defender at his position is probably the only thing keeping him the line up over Corey Joseph. However, as Toronto have made yet another poor start to a playoff series it is something that the Raptor’s coaching staff will have to look at making an adjustment to as the series plays out.
For the Heat it was a mixed night, this was a game they really should have closed out in regulation. Erik Spoelstra will be concerned by the mental lapses his team showed at the end of the game committing turnovers and fouls that allowed the Raptors back into the contest. What their performance in OT does highlight is that this is a team with serious mental toughness. To get back up after a dagger like that, away from home, with a raucous crowd creating an intoxicatingly hostile atmosphere shows that this Heat team is for real.
It also shows the value of having a man, in the most literal sense of the word, like Dwyane Wade on your team. Wade is one of the all time greats on the court but he showed his value as a leader off it last night. Having someone who is going to pull the huddle together and say “nah guys not tonight, we aren’t gonna throw this away tonight” is huge. The combination of strong words of the court backed up by strong play on it from Wade is what brought the Heat back from the brink. It is also what the Raptors still can’t seem to find from their key players. These Raptors need to go away, lick their wounds and come back firing in game 2 on Thursday night.
Looks like Drake and co. are in for another nerve shredding evening in the 6.