Goran Dragic danced, twirling through the paint and slipping off defenders as if he was practising inside an arena alone, instead of in a crucial game six at American Airlines Arena.
Dragic netted 30 points in the Miami Heat’s 103-91 win against the Toronto Raptors. The Eastern Conference semi-final victory forces a game seven in Toronto, as the Heat attempt to become the first team ever to come back twice from 3-2 series deficit in the same postseason.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan paced the Raptors, with 36 and 23 points respectively, but needed 48 shot attempts against the Heat’s quicker lineup.
Heat rookie Justise Winslow forced the taller Raptors lineup out of defensive position when he hit two deep shots to open the game. That distance proved vital, as the Heat exposed the flaw to earn a 21-20 first frame advantage.
Despite a mere paint spattering, the Heat was able to stretch the Raptors out with its range. Toronto finished the quarter hitting the high-percentage shots at a higher clip, netting eight points to Miami’s four inside, but could not corral the Heat, who hit 43 percent of its 3-point attempts in the quarter.
Then 'The Dragon' roared.
Dragic daringly darted through open holes in the defence in the second quarter. His drives sworded the resistance for plays at the rim as he dealt dishes and dunks. The Heat guard dominated with 19 points, four dimes, and three rebounds in the first half, driving the team's 53-44 edge.
"(Raptors center Bismack) Biyombo was guarding Justise and he spread the floor," Dragic said. "That gives me and D-Wade room to operate and we can penetrate. (Biyombo) steps in with Justise and he was wide open for those shots. When he hits those shots it's much easier for the whole team.
"Same mindset next game, not only me, everybody," he continued. "We feel like we play more aggressive when everybody's attacking...that’s our game…spacing is a crucial thing and that’s how me and D-Wade can get in the paint and make some plays."
DeRozan and Lowry supplied 55 percent of the Raptors’ first half shot attempts, but were unable to get their teammates involved.
"The way they played tonight is the style he's accustom to," Lowry said of Dragic. "When he plays downhill and getting to the basket and being shifty, it’s a different team. You always have to account for him driving the ball and being accountable in making sure you know where he is and what he's doing at all times."
In the second half, the Raptors lingered like DeRozan after liftoff. Raptors defenders collapsed on Dragic, forcing the guard to handoff to teammates. Lowry lit up the Heat in the third quarter, hitting difficult shots with regularity and drawing the Raptors closer.
The point guard had 11 points in the first three minutes of the quarter as the Raptors cut the lead to four points. But the Heat’s defence and bench kept the home team on top 87-72 heading into the final stanza.
"They played good team defence," DeRozan said. "They were small but they were switching on a lot of things. We really couldn’t get them in the rotation we wanted to. That left us out there taking a lot of shots we normally like to take, but it took away from the passing angles as well."
Then it was time for Wade to close the door.
‘Flash’ found nylon for eight points in the final quarter, while playing maestro at the point guard position. The veteran made an array of tough shots, and deferred to Dragic to keep the Raptors off balance.
Game seven of the Eastern Conference semi-final playoff series is set for 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Toronto. The Raptors are looking for its franchise debut in the conference finals.