The Miami Heat bounced back from a late meltdown to earn a 102-96 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors and draw first blood in their second round series.
In full control entering the final moments of the fourth quarter, the Heat committed costly turnovers and missed crucial free throws, allowing Kyle Lowry to tie the game at the buzzer with a desperation half-court heave.
Miami’s Goran Dragic otherwise dominated the point guard battle, leading the Heat with 26 points, and Dwyane Wade took over in overtime, finishing with 24 points and grabbing the game-clinching steal.
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Jonas Valanciunas stepped up for Toronto with 24 points and 14 rebounds while DeMar DeRozan shot 9-for-22 on the way to 22 points.
But Lowry’s shooting slump continued, miracle shot aside, as did the Raptors’ game one curse. The Raptors point guard has now made just eight of his 49 three-point attempts in this year's playoffs.
The Raptors have not been shy about tweaking their starting line-up in the playoffs and head coach Dwane Casey dialed up another change for game one, matching Miami’s smaller group by giving Norman Powell the start in place of Patrick Patterson.
The move seemed to work early on as the Heat missed eight of their first ten shots. And Miami soon had a bigger problem than their cold shooting as rim protector Hassan Whiteside twisted awkwardly trying to catch a pass from Wade (which the three-time NBA champion later described as "terrible"). After receiving treatment on the sidelines, Whiteside returned to the locker room, but was back on the court early in the second quarter.
By that point, the Heat had recovered their poise, riding Joe Johnson on a 12-4 run to pull level. Johnson, who tortured Toronto two years ago with the Brooklyn Nets, repeatedly bullied his way into the paint for easy baskets as Casey strangely opted to start the second quarter with neither DeRozan nor Kyle Lowry on the court. Terrence Ross, who never got going in the first round, accepted the challenge, knocking in 11 second quarter points to keep the Raptors afloat.
In a half littered with mistakes, Luol Deng (ten points, four rebounds) and Gerald Green both missed routine dunks for Miami, and the two teams combined for 19 first half turnovers. Toronto, despite a scoreless half from Lowry, limped to a 43-41 half-time lead.
As Lowry continued to struggle after the break (3-for-13 on the night), Dragic took over for Miami, scoring a slithering transition layup and a contested three-pointer. In a relatively low-scoring game, the Heat’s 27-point effort in the third quarter swung the momentum their way. Still, Toronto only trailed by five points entering the final 12 minutes.
Dragic was at it again in the fourth quarter, giving the Heat a 75-65 lead with 9:50 to play after drilling a three from the top of the key and showing nice touch on a turnaround jumper. With Toronto on the ropes, Miami tried to go for the kill, but back-to-back hustle plays from Lowry got the crowd back into the game and Valanciunas’ tip-in cut the Miami lead to four with 4:54 to play.
DeRozan continued the desperate Toronto rally, drawing fouls and still finding a way to finish, first from close range, then with a 15-foot jumper. On both occasions, he missed costly “and-one” free-throws.
Inside the final minute, Dragic seemed to have delivered the knockout punch. Wade’s drive drew Toronto defenders into the paint and his perfect pass found Dragic alone in the corner to drop the dagger for a five-point lead with 40.9 seconds left.
But the Raptors refused to throw in the towel. After a Deng turnover, Ross kept things interesting with a triple to bring Toronto back within three with 6.5 seconds left.
Another Deng turnover moments later led to a loose ball foul with 4.1 seconds on the clock, but Ross could only make one of his two free-throws. Toronto then fouled Whiteside, who missed both free-throws to set up Lowry’s deep buzzer beater.
The Heat’s veteran core was shaken but not floored. They regrouped, gave the keys to Wade and scored the first eight points of overtime, with Miami’s leader hitting a fadeaway, then a floater. Toronto cut the lead to four but the damage was done and the Heat held on to steal home court advantage.
Fans outside Canada are already salivating over a Heat-Cleveland Cavaliers conference finals match-up. There is plenty of basketball left to be played in this series, but Miami (just about) took the first step towards making that showdown a reality.