The confetti was still scattered on the Air Canada Centre floor after the Toronto Raptors booked their ticket for the second round of the playoffs, but in the home locker room the scouting reports on each Miami Heat player had already been distributed.
Miami, who outlasted the Charlotte Hornets in a seven-game series of their own, bring a dangerous blend of veterans (Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson) and talented youngsters (Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow) that requires Toronto’s full attention.
With less than 48 hours until game one of that second round series against the Heat, each and every Raptors player insisted that the game seven celebrations would be brief.
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“Like my uncle always says: enjoy it til midnight,” said DeMarre Carroll, who admitted that a month ago he feared he would miss the playoffs due to a nagging knee injury. ‘Enjoy it til midnight’ was a phrase echoed by several Toronto players.
“Tomorrow we’ve got to forget about the Indiana Pacers and focus on the Miami Heat,” Carroll added. “They are a very good team, they’re playing at a high level and I think Charlotte got their attention when they beat them on their home floor.
"We’ve got to be prepared for when they step into our house and we’ve got to be ready to compete at a high level.”
DeMar DeRozan, the star of game seven with a game-high 30 points, is expecting the challenges to keep on coming in round two against the Heat.
“They’re a veteran team with a lot of guys who’ve been in these positions before deep in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s going to be another hard fought series. We don’t expect nothing less.”
WARY OF WADE
Toronto head coach Dwane Casey squared off against Wade and Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals while an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, and he talked about the task that awaits his team.
“Dwyane Wade is back to being a young Dwyane Wade,” he explained. “He is a handful and he knows how to play in a playoff situation. I’ve prepared for him before but, again, he can will a team to a victory. We’ve kind of been watching them out of one side of our eye and our scouts have been following both Charlotte and Miami.
“[Goran] Dragic is playing big time. He’s leading their team. [Hassan] Whiteside is patrolling the paint so our work will be cut out for us, not only on the defensive end but on the offensive end also. So it’s about playing against their physicality and their shot-blocking ability with Whiteside.”
Holding off Paul George and the Indiana Pacers allowed the Raptors to banish their playoff ghosts, but another chapter begins on Tuesday night. And, after all the drama and all the pressure, Toronto is now just four wins away from the conference finals.