Despite a post-season marred by poor shooting and untimely injuries, the resilient Toronto Raptors find themselves on the brink of their first ever Eastern Conference finals appearance.
The Raptors hold a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat heading into Friday’s crucial game six and, while they have two cracks at earning the decisive win, it is time for Dwane Casey’s men to prove that they have the resolve and poise to seal things on the road.
Toronto already has a post-season win in Miami, but a series-clinching victory in enemy territory would go some way towards debunking the idea that the winner of this match-up is simply going to be cannon fodder for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lie in wait after sweeping the Atlanta Hawks in their Eastern Conference semi-final.
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Kyle Lowry (25 points) and DeMar DeRozan (34 points) finally shot the ball well on the same night in game five, giving the Raptors hope that their respective shooting slumps are now over. A repeat performance will be required on Friday to get the Raptors over the hump and into the last four.
This series has been ugly – there is no better word for it – from woeful shooting nights to the barrage of injuries. Jonas Valanciunas, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng and DeMarre Carroll have all missed time due to injury, while DeRozan (thumb) is battling through the pain barrier and both Lowry and Goran Dragic have had multiple bloody facial cuts.
The Raptors hope to have Carroll on the court for game six after x-rays and further tests on his injured wrist came back negative. Nonetheless, Terrence Ross should see a healthy dose of minutes after his strong play in this series, and Norman Powell may have a bigger role to play in guarding Dwyane Wade.
WIN OR GO HOME
Miami, meanwhile, will have to manage without Whiteside as it looks to level the series, and Deng is also questionable. All of their back-up big men have been a disaster for head coach Erik Spoelstra, leaving him with little option but to trust his smaller, all-wing line-ups.
The Heat will not go down without a fight – and, if Toronto wants to prove its ambition to advance to the conference finals, they will have to rip the series from Miami’s hands. Friday presents the ideal opportunity to do just that, and the Raptors will understand that the alternative is another do-or-die game seven at home. This is winning time. It’s up to the players to see it through.