May 6, 2016
Raptors tie series
The Toronto Raptors were going to lose Game 2.
They were going to lose Game 2 because they trailed the Miami Heat 77-70 with 6 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in regulation, and nothing was working.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were missing shots. Their half-court offense had become stagnant. And no one else appeared ready to step up.
The Raptors were going to be facing an 0-2 deficit, facing the possibility that their season could be over as early as Monday.
But the Raptors hadn’t lost consecutive games all postseason. And after dropping Game 1 to Miami in overtime, they weren’t going to lose Game 2 in the extra session as well.
Staying true to form, the Raptors responded with their backs against the wall.
Led by Jonas Valanciunas, who emerged in the fourth quarter, Toronto staged a comeback and eventually won 96-92 in overtime on Thursday night to even the best-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Heat at 1-1.
The Raptors are 4-0 in the 2016 playoffs following a loss. Game 3 is Saturday afternoon at American Airlines Arena.
“I’m encouraged,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve got to take it. We can harp on all the negatives and beat that drum, beat it to death, but we’re finding ways to win and that’s very encouraging.”
You certainly can find several negatives. Lowry and DeRozan combined to go 16-for-46 from the field. As a team, the Raptors missed 12 free throws, shot 4-for-18 from 3-point range and had one assist in the second half. Even DeMarre Carroll, the team’s offensive savior with 21 points, uncharacteristically blew a defensive assignment that allowed Goran Dragic to slip out for an uncontested 3-pointer that enabled Miami to send the game into the extra session.
But there were plenty of positives, too. Lowry, who came in shooting an NBA playoff record-low 30.6 percent from the field, drained a pair of midrange shots late in the fourth quarter. Valanciunas, who had just four points heading into the fourth, scored 11 more the rest of the way, including nine in the final period of regulation.
And Toronto’s defense also forced 21 Miami turnovers and turned them into 24 points. For the series, that makes 41 Heat miscues resulting in 46 Raptors points.
“It’s been ugly,” DeRozan said of the series. “But it’s a grind, honestly. We know nothing is going to be pretty, but as long as we can come out with the W it doesn’t matter.”
It wouldn’t have happened without Valanciunas, whose biggest plays came on a tip-in late in the fourth and a pick-and-pop jumper from Lowry in OT. The 24-year-old center also grabbed 12 rebounds and was a team-best plus-17.
“He did that and we didn’t even run any plays for him,” DeRozan said of Valanciunas, who mostly negated Hassan Whiteside over the final 17 minutes. “It was just him being hungry. I think he’s definitely the reason that we won the game tonight.”
Added Carroll: “I told Jonas that if he will play as hard on defense as he does on offense, we will win this whole series.”
Said Valanciunas: “You just have to read the game. You can’t be taking all the shots. One day you have three shots and then all of a sudden the ball just falls into your hands. You have to keep playing. We are playing a team sport and not an individual sport.”
Regardless, the Raptors are dependent on Lowry and DeRozan, and so far things have stayed consistent. Combined, they have taken 317 playoff shots and made 103 for a 32.5 percent clip.
This might just be the way it is. Lowry has already been playing banged up, and now DeRozan is playing through a sore right thumb he suffered late in Game 1. That injury probably contributed to him stunningly missing six free throws in Game 2.
“It’s something I have to deal with,” DeRozan said. “We’ll figure it out.”
Lowry still remains a positive contributor on the court when you look at the total package, while sometimes DeRozan isolations are the only offense Toronto can muster. You just have to take the good with the bad, the weird with the normal. Lowry, who despite his late-night shooting session after Game 1 became the first player in NBA history to go nine straight playoff games shooting under 40 percent while taking at least 10 shots, said he felt great, so that’s something.
All things considered, the Raptors are headed to Miami in OK shape. They haven’t been able to score and their two top players haven’t been able to shoot, but their defense has stepped up, as have their role players.
On Thursday night, the Raptors became just the second team in the past 30 postseasons to shoot as poorly as 41.9 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from the free throw line and still win, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Like Casey said, they’ll take it.