It’s only fitting that, on Friday the 13th, the lucky number seven was made relevant once more. The Miami Heat showed their resilience, holding down their home floor and defeating the Toronto Raptors, 103-91, to force a Game 7 on Sunday afternoon.
Miami tweaked their starting lineup, went small and gave Toronto fits with their speed and pace. After a tightly contested first quarter (21-20 Heat), Miami blew it open in the second quarter led by 14 points from their Slovenian Slasher, Goran Dragic; they outscored Toronto 32-24, marking the first time in the series that Miami scored 30 or more points in a quarter.
After taking a nine-point lead into the half, the Heat never looked back, with Toronto only getting the deficit down to four early in the third quarter.
It was a stylistic, but crucial win for the Heat, who will head into Toronto on Sunday with the chance to become the first team to win back-to-back seven-game series after trailing 3-2 in both. The Raptors, on the other hand, have the chance to close out the series at home and make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Let’s get into some takeaways, shall we?
PACE, PACE, PACE!
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, without Hassan Whiteside and how his backup big man stable combined had been outperformed by Raptors center Bismack Biyombo, decided to go as small as possible. Spoelstra inserted rookie Justise Winslow into the starting lineup alongside Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, and Luol Deng, and the pace flew up accordingly.
Miami, for the first time in the series, made a conscious effort to push the ball at all times, doing so after misses and long rebounds. Miami feasted in transition, and when the easy bucket wasn’t there, was able to get into its actions early, get downhill (more on that later), and generate good looks for most of the night.
Nobody benefited from Spo’s decision to go ultra-small more than Dragic, who was in attack mode from the opening tip: driving, probing, finishing, and draining stepbacks all over the floor.
When Dragic gets a head of steam going to the basket, he’s one of the NBA’s best scoring guards. He routinely got downhill and used his body to get himself easier looks in the paint:
The improved space and faster pace with no true big on the floor opened things up for Dragic, who finished with a playoff career-high 30 points, to go along with seven rebounds, four assists, and was a game-high plus-25.
TORONTO’S OTHERS WERE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND
For the second straight game, Toronto’s star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan came through, combining for 59 points. While the efficiency wasn’t quite there (20-48 shooting, 41.7 percent from the field), the duo was aggressive all night, putting constant pressure on Miami’s back line of defense and living at the free throw line (combined 16-17 from the line).
Everyone else? Not so much.
Everyone not named Lowry or DeRozan combined for 35 points on 14-34 shooting (41.2 percent).
Bismack Biyombo (four points on 1-of-4 shooting, 13 rebounds, two blocks) didn’t quite control the paint as he had in the previous two games.
Cory Joseph, who had arguably been the most consistent point guard of the series to this point, finally had an off game, finishing with seven points on 3-of-9 shooting while posting a team-worst minus-15. His backup backcourt mate Terrence Ross wasn’t much better, finishing with six points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Overall, Toronto’s bench was woeful (15 points on 7-of-18 shooting) by their standards, and simply not good enough compared to Miami’s (24 points on 10-18 shooting). Tyler Johnson provided solid energy defensively while the Josh Brothers (Richardson and McRoberts) broke Toronto’s back all night with timely effort plays; McRoberts feasted on the offensive glass (three offensive rebounds) while Richardson had the play of the night with this flush over Biyombo:
Bench players, especially young ones, tend to play better at home. Toronto has to hope that’s the case come Sunday, or it’ll be pretty difficult for them to pull it out.