Bruised, bloodied, and bludgeoned gave way to an all out offensive barrage for the Miami Heat in their game six win against the Toronto Raptors.
With the Raptors' starting lineup standing an average of two inches taller than their counterparts, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did something he was never afraid to do in the past - the unconventional.
Spoelstra, who was without Hassan Whiteside (MCL sprain), Udonis Haslem, and Amar’e Stoudemire, decided to start rookie Justise Winslow at the center position. Winslow’s Raptors opponent was 6'9", 255lb Bismack Biyombo.
“It’s just unconventional,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 22 points in the victory. “Sometimes unconventional works. It’s not your traditional big-man, big-man lineup.
"Some lineups out there out in transition, a big guy might not be used to having to run where a three-man goes. You have to come back up and play. It changes the comfort level of a big man. It gives the series a different feel. At this point of the series you need something a little different,”
A sign of things to come flashed on the Heat’s locker room TV, as the team watched its game five loss before tip off.
“It’s been well-documented that our offence hasn’t looked like our offence,” Spoelstra said. “You have to give credit to Toronto. They slowed us down taking away what we normally do. I think this is the first regulation game we have scored over 100. The opponent has a lot to say to that. We felt like we’ve been playing in mud. We looked a little bit more like us tonight.”
“(Goran) Dragic looked a little more like him,” Spoelstra said. “We were able to hit some gaps and make some plays. I’m sure they’ll make adjustments to that and we will have to try to find different ways get to our game. It works hand in hand. How fast we play and getting to space before they can get set. It’s a lot easier said than done.”
Dragic rewarded Spoelstra’s strategy with 30 points, making 12-of-21 shots from the floor. The guard scored 19 points in the first half, but deferred to the veteran Wade in the fourth quarter. The perenial All-Star answered with eight fourth quarter points to secure the victory.
Spoelstra’s move isn’t a huge surprise, given the brutality of the series and a long NBA season. Injuries to star center Whiteside, as well as Luol Deng, put the coach’s former strategy in a bind.
“Them guys can play,” Whiteside said. “D-Wade is just dominating the series. Lu is dominating the series. Goran is playing really well. He’s dominating. We have a lot of talented guys on this team. I believe in them guys.”
Following doubt surrounding his game six availability, Deng showed up in the locker room sporting a thin-layered wrap on his left wrist. But that didn’t stop him from chasing the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. The Brit also crashed the boards, supplanting the Heat’s ability to get up a barrage of shot attempts.
“Last time I played in playoffs was six years ago,” Dragic said. “So it’s awesome for me. I enjoy competitiveness I enjoy every game. Sometimes you are going to have bad games and good games but I always try to look at the positive and try to respond. Nobody says it’s going to be easy and now we are going to Toronto for game seven.”