Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, Game 3, May 7

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Heading into what is in essence a best of 5 series the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are dealing with their second round series being dubbed “the boring series”. Pundits have virtually proclaimed Cleveland the Eastern Conference Champions despite the fact the Cavaliers will need to win 5 more games for that accomplishment to be recognized.
With those thoughts buzzing in my head I began my typical pregame prep scouring box scores, stats and analytics. Suddenly I caught myself humming specific melodies as certain series themes came to mind. In light of those lyrics pushing their way into my conscious mind I decided to incorporate a segment to the usual game day preview. With that, here is my ipod remix for the game day break down:
The Game Remix:
Bowie – Under Pressure: With a nod to the great David Bowie, let’s address the elephant in the room. Given the 15-year drought and the weight of a nation on their shoulders it was reasonable the Raptors felt tension to get out of the first round. Yet, curiously in round 2 there are still long stretches where the team appear tight, become stagnate and resemble nothing close to the 5th best offensive unit of the regular season.

Sure part of the issues are the struggles of the Raptors All-Star back court, but is it something more? Is it coincidence it’s happened after each half time break where the players have time to start thinking about consequences?  Will a trip to the Florida sun away from Jurassic Park, and the adoring Raptor Nation base serve as the antidote that allows the players to just play ball?
Or perhaps this is simply a matter of the team adjusting to the line-up changes that have featured Scola being replaced, Carroll returning and Powell/Patterson in and out of the starting unit.
Though Lowry has taken the brunt of the criticism DeRozan has had his own issues and the thumb sprain didn’t help. Hopefully Casey saw NBA TV The Starters chart (below) which highlighted DeMar’s efficiency rises with fewer dribbles. This provides fodder to run more plays with double screens in order to get DeRozan more spot up shots.

Prince – Thieves In The Temple: I’m still getting my head around a world without Prince, so it is only fitting he be included in the shuffle. In the regular season the Raptors averaged 7.8 steals per game (Heat: 6.7). Through 2 games the Raptors are averaging 12.5 SPG with 15 in game 2. Miami had 41 turnovers in 2 games which produced 24% of the Raptors points.

Guess Who – Laughing (Lyric: You took me by surprise): Only fitting Canadian band The Guess Who make the cut with their tune Laughing and the lyric “you took me by surprise“. I doubt I’m the only one who has been in awe of the number of times Terrence Ross is driving the paint. It feels like he’s had more drives in this series then he did all of last season. Add in DeMarre Carroll’s drives and it’s allowing the Raptors to keep the Heat defense honest. Miami aren’t quick enough (read: young enough) to recover when they are defending these two specifically with expectations of perimeter shots.

Diodes – Tired of Waking Up Tired: The Diodes may well be defining what Miami’s 30+ club will be reciting daily as Deng (31yrs/21days),Wade (34yrs/111days) and Joe Johnson (34yrs/313days) factor large in the Heat core strategy. As per the Heat are playing their 8th game in 15 days with Joe Cool having logged 83 minutes and Deng 81 in Toronto.

Bon Jovi – Lyric: Shot through the heart and you’re to blame….There’s no where to run. No one can save me, the damage is done.” Bon Jovi enters the list with an appropriate lyric I’m using to reference the Raptors ball screens.  It has become the new mantra for the Raptors big men to say setting a solid screen is akin to a great assist, and you know what they might have a point! At the end of game 2, with the Raptors trailing, Kyle Lowry’s timely shots around the :45 and 15 second marks both came off solid screens set by Valanciunas.

Police – Lyric: “Every little thing she he does is magic“ Wade continues to demonstrate why he is arguably the best leader in the NBA, but his knees can’t take the same beating anymore, especially every other day. After his brilliant game 6 effort in Charlotte he couldn’t replicate his production in G7. By no means would I count him out because he’s just one of those “it” guys. Having said that, Spoelstra and Wade will need to figure out when to push the Flash, and when it would be more opportune to trust some of their youngsters.

Arcade Fire – Wake Up: Through the first two games a few Toronto standouts from round 1 (Patterson, Powell and Biyombo) haven’t made a mark.  Although this could just be a factor of match-ups, it does feel like they are due to figure in this series. For Powell having to guard Wade has been a scarier proposition for him than Paul George.  He’s been getting into early foul trouble which is also serving to remove his ability to find an offensive flow. It’s more realistic to expect Biyombo and Patterson will put their imprint on this series whether it be via blocks or perimeter scoring respectively.

Janet Jackson- Rhythm Nation: Sure the steals and turnovers led to additional Toronto scoring, but equally the pace of the game (when up tempo) combined with ball and player movement provided the best moments for the Raptors. For all the reasons Toronto needs to increase the pace/movement the Heat want to slow it down. The elder statesmen of the Heat can’t deal with pace, tempo and speed over 48 minutes and be productive offensively. In spite of Goran Dragic’s offensive output he’s demonstrated there is a reason why his attributes only show up north and south and his failings are accentuated east and west.
For the first time arguably since becoming a Toronto Raptor Carroll showcased his full bag of tricks. He finally looks like the guy the Raptors signed him to be which bodes well for the team. Continued 2-way production from Carroll forces primarily Deng or Johnson to play both ends.

Johnny Cash – Hurt: Chris Bosh has been ruled out for the remainder of the year due to the issues with blood clots in his calf. Rotoworld notes Miami Heat beat reporter: Ira Winderman told 560 FQAM he doesn’t believe Bosh will ever play again. Whether that is a reporter stating his opinion or he has privileged intel, it’s a very sad exit for one of the game’s top stars if true.
Though the injury report doesn’t list anyone other than Bosh there are some core players nursing aches and pains that could play a factor the longer the series goes. Wade fell hard (or rather had someone fall on top of him) in both games seemingly hurting his knee each time. Whiteside’s knee and hip are bothersome and Dragic continues to give his dentist plenty of off season work. DeRozan hurt his thumb on the turnover at the end of game 1 which was obviously an issue as he shot 2 of 8 from the line in G2.

Game Specifics:
The Venue: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
The Tip: 5:00 PM EST
TV: ESPN, Sportsnet
Radio: 790 The Ticket / S:, 1050 Toronto, Sportsnet The Fan 590, Sirius:207
Recommended Pregame Reading/Listening:

Zarar and Shyam: Post game 2 reaction podcast
Blake’s Post Game 2 Notes and his Post Game 2 Breakdown
Matt Shantz: article – No such thing as a moral victory
Andrew Thompson: Searching for warm spots article offers insight for what is and isn’t working for Raptors
Blake: Friday Practice notes
ICYMI Zarar offers awesome compilation videos of Valanciunas, Carroll and Ross
The Dr. of Joyology – Steve Gennaro and I talk on the All In Sports Talk Network, Friday podcast: the morning after Game 2 (as per tweet below)

Its an ALL IN Extra! @sgennaro chats #NBA with @TTOTambz & #NFL with @ESPNdirocco @johnmgennaro #ALLINnetwork
— ALL IN Sports Talk (@allinsportstalk) May 6, 2016

Series Stats:

Key Stats and Numbers:
Offensive Rebounds:  Though the Heat are winning the rebound battle the presence of Jonas Valanciunas on the offensive glass is giving Toronto the edge. He’s averaging 3 offensive boards through 2 games. On the opposite side the Raptors need to do a better effort of cleaning the defensive glass where Whiteside is earning his keep averaging 12 per game.
Assists: Both teams have had issues finding passing lanes though the Raptors did a better job in the first half (of both games). The issue for Miami is doing it without turning the ball over and for Toronto their ball/player  movement are critical to upping the assist volume.
Playoff Numbers:
Raptors rank: 2nd in points off turnovers (18.2), 3rd in second chance points (14.2)
Heat rank: 2nd in points in the paint (43.8)
An extremely interesting stat focuses on how each team performs in contested shots vs uncontested shots and speaks to their identity
Game 1:

Miami shot 48.7% on uncontested shots taken (19 of 39), and shot 42% on contested shots (21 of 50).
Toronto shot 30.8% on uncontested shots taken (12 of 39), but shot 56% on contested shots (28 of 50).

Game 1:

Miami shot 64.3% on uncontested shots taken (18 of 28), and shot 41.2% on contested shots (21 of 51).
Toronto shot 46.9% on uncontested shots taken (15 of 32), but shot 39.3% on contested shots (24 of 61)

The numbers showcase the stagnancy of Toronto’s offense especially in G2 where they shot an inordinate amount of contested shots. Miami meanwhile don’t get up as many shots which should once again speak to Casey pushing tempo and pace with increased player and ball movement.
There was ample home work following game 2.
The Heat obviously need to take better care of the ball as they continue to cough up the ball worse than an 19th century waif with consumption.
Miami also need to figure out a way to make Whiteside a bigger factor. Wade spoke of this in his post game 2 presser. Conversely the Raptors will look for Valanciunas to keep that positional battle status quo or build upon their initial success and capitalize by drawing the big man into early foul trouble.
There are gains to be had specifically if Whiteside is out of the game with Stoudemire and Hasslem offering little to no paint protection.
With the Raptors active hands forcing those 15 steals in game 2, the most important lesson learned was how much difficulty the Heat have defending them in motion. Therefore ball and player movement become the number one priority on offense. And, while the Raptors need to address the stagnant offense, they need to be even more diligent defensively. Allowing the Heat to shoot 44.9% and 49.4% at home is a blow-out waiting to happen. Suffice to say it’s time the Raptors defense make an appearance in the series. And could you please hit your free throws?
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
SG:DeMar DeRozan Norman Powell,
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, James Johnson
PF: Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola, Jason Thompson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo
PG: Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson
SG: Dwyane Wade, Gerald Green
SF: Joe Johnson, Justise Winslow
PF: Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts
C: Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem, Amar’e Stoudemire
The Line:
Game 1: Raptors -4.5 (Heat 102, Raptors 96 in OT)
Game 2: Raptors -4.5 (Raptors 96, Heat 92 in OT)
Game 3: Heat -5.5
The odds makers do an abrupt shift giving the Heat the edge beyond the typical home court given spread of 3 or 4 points. I guess that’s expected given how much better Miami perform at home, but it should be noted that’s a 10 point shift from in one game. The over – under is 187 points with the Heat having the slight edge early.
Referee Assignments:
James Capers, Kane Fitzgerald, Ed Malloy and alternate David Guthrie
In Closing:
As the Raptors embark on a two game road trip the Raptor faithful are hopeful the team rediscovers their fundamentals. Specifically, Toronto’s defense needs to be on display for more than a quarter (ideally for 48 minutes). One break out game offensively would go a long way to instilling some confidence in this club. Moreover, can the timely shots made at the end of game 2 by Kyle Lowry result in him extending that production in South Beach. Time and again this season, those shots were the ones that tipped the scale in Toronto’s favor.  The signs are there, now it’s time the Raptors bull dog leader take to the court and just do it.
With that, I leave you with the Ambassador’s addition to the remix and the appropriately fitting title:

Follow @raptorsrepublicFollow @TTOTambzGameday: Raptors @ Heat, Game 3, May 7 originated on Raptors Republic: ESPN TrueHoop Network Blog.


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