The Heat didn’t go up 2-0 thanks to their 102-96 overtime win on Tuesday night in Toronto. It just felt that way.
After an ugly feeling-out period of physical play and poor shooting in a first half that ended with the Raptors up 43-41, Miami (53-37 SU, 48-41-1 ATS) took control of its Eastern Conference semifinal opener with defense and clutch shooting from guards Goran Dragic and Dwayne Wade, taking an 87-81 inside 30 seconds before Kyle Lowry clanked another 3-pointer and the process of trying to run out the clock began. Luol Deng’s misadventures in inbounding would ultimately complicate matters, leading to Lowry’s halfcourt buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime.
It was equal parts miraculous, fluky and unjust. The Raptors (60-30 SU, 47-43 ATS) had no business tying up a game they had surrendered in the fourth quarter at home. Lowry shot 0-for-6 from beyond the arc if you take his answered prayer out of the equation, finishing 3-for-13 and failing to get to the free-throw line in scoring just 7 points. Under bettors ended up seeing their wise investment go up in smoke since the extra five minutes were enough to help surpass the posted total of 192. Miami failed to foul when it had a chance to on the final possession, playing with fire by not having Hassan Whiteside intentionally miss a second free-throw that would’ve put Toronto in a scramble situation.
Despite their ineptitude in closing out matters in regulation, the Heat shook off the blow by scoring the first eight points of OT, holding the Raptors scoreless for the first 3:46 of the extra session. They held on, barely, when Wade stripped DeMar DeRozan to prevent another potential game-tying look, wrapping up a night where the home team’s All-Star backcourt was outscored 50-29 by their counterparts.
Hours after the 53rd and final minute expired, Lowry was still out on the Air Canada Centre floor shooting, hoping to break through and finally snap out of a brutal slump that extends back to April 7, where he closed out the regular season by shooting 15-for-43 (34.9). He shot 31-for-98 (31.6) in the Pacers series, never once hitting even 40 percent of his attempts, and tied a playoff-low with his 23 percent clip in Game 1, matching how poorly he performed in the series opener against Indiana.
That last part should be disconcerting to Toronto. Lowry never could really pick up his level of play as an inferior Indiana team took the series to a seventh game. Even in a clinching game where the Raps were at their best, it was backup Cory Joseph who was most effective running the team next to DeRozan. Lowry remains shook, and if he fails to hit his first attempt in Game 2, will carry the burden of his recent failures into every shot. Confidence seems to have drained out of him.
Making matters worse, Miami’s Goran Dragic looks quite comfortable being out there matched up with a former teammate whose job he once took in Houston. Physically, the wiry Heat point guard has advantages against the smaller, stockier Lowry and seems to know his game well. After playing exceptionally in scoring 25 points in Game 7 against Charlotte, Dragic came into this series brimming with confidence and combined with Wade to 20-for-41 from the field, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range. Wade made huge shots down the stretch and had a huge impact defensively, blocking a pair of shots late and reading passing lanes expertly, a product of watching tape like a savvy veteran and adjusting accordingly.
The Heat won their first game in Toronto since November of 2013. It was their first win over the Raptors since a 20-point victory on Nov. 8. DeRozan had led his team to wins in the last three regular-season meetings, a 108-94 win in Miami in December, a 101-81 win in Toronto on Jan. 22 and a 112-104 home OT win in March. He averaged 29.3 points over his team’s four regular-season games, shooting nearly 49 percent from the field. DeRozan scored just 22 points on 9-for-22 shooting in Game 1 as Miami did a nice job of rotating defenders on him and keeping him from truly getting rolling. He scored 30 points on 32 shots in the deciding game against Indiana and three wins over the Heat in the regular season, DeRozan averaged 33.7 points in Toronto’s three victories over the Heat, so even though everyone is looking for Lowry to rebound, the Raps’ potential resurgence starts with him.
The other key point of contention comes in the paint, where Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside really went at one another and set the tone for a physical series early. Toronto’s center scored a team-best 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, staying out of foul trouble and playing 41 minutes. Whiteside survived a nasty-looking potential knee injury, went to the locker room and returned to end up playing 39 minutes, scoring just nine points but grabbing 17 boards and serving as a deterrent around the paint. Keeping their starting centers on the floor is a huge key for both teams. Miami won the rebounding battle 62-47 and had an 11-4 edge on the offensive glass. The Heat, who often struggle from the perimeter, shot 8-for-11 from 3-point range, while Toronto shot 5-for-21.
Chris Bosh, sidelined since Feb. 9 due to complications with blood clots, was ruled out for the remainder of the season on Wednesday after rumblings that he badly wanted to return. With him officially done, Miami must lean on Amar’e Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem and Josh McRoberts to plug the middle when Whiteside is on the bench. Toronto comes into Game 2 reporting no injuries.
The Raptors owned the second-best home record in the Eastern Conference at 32-9 in the regular season, but are just 3-2 at the Air Canada Center in the postseason, covering the spread only once. They’re 1-6 ATS in their last seven home playoff games. Seven of the Raptors last nine games have gone under the posted total. The ‘under’ had prevailed in five consecutive Heat games prior to Game 1’s OT result.