The Toronto Raptors have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, with a win today against the Miami Heat in Game 6.
After winning Game 5 with a 99-91 victory and taking a 3-2 series lead, the Raptors will be trying to close out the series in Miami’s American Airlines Arena. A win would continue the Raptors’ historic season, after they won 56 games in the regular season, and advanced to the conference semis for the first time since 2001.
Both teams aren’t fully healthy going into Game 6, after they experienced injuries to their front lines in games 3 and 4. Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside are both out for today’s game, while Luol Deng and DeMarre Carroll are both game-time decisions because of wrist contusions, and will be evaluated before tipoff at 8:00 EST.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Strong 1st Quarter
Whenever the Raptors or Heat have won the 1st quarter in any game this series, they’ve come away with a win.
The Heat have been great at starting off games in the playoffs, averaging 25.3 points on 50.8 per cent shooting from the field and 48.9 per cent from 3-point distance. If the Raptors can’t neutralize the Heat in the early goings, they might never have a chance to recover in front of their opponent’s home crowd.
The Raptors were great in the first quarter of Game 5, when they beat the Heat 28-18. They established DeMar DeRozan to start the game, helping him get into an early groove with 10 of his eventual 34 points that night. Getting DeRozan in an early flow is what the Raptors did all throughout the regular season, with him leading them out of the gate with 6.9 points on 46.4 per cent shooting.
Lowry Needs to Avoid Foul Trouble
Kyle Lowry was composed in Game 5, hitting clutch shots and remaining in the game with only two personal fouls. A different story than in Game 4, when Lowry fouled out and the Raptors were blown out by the Heat 11-4 in OT.
Lowry has picked up five or more fouls in four games in the 2016 playoffs, in which the Raptors have an 0-4 record. Without him on the floor they look like a different team, making it important that he doesn’t pick up unnecessary fouls. He may not be shooting well, but he still holds the Raptors’ highest offensive rating of 102.2.
This isn’t anything new for Lowry, since he faced foul trouble all throughout last year’s series sweep against the Washington Wizards, leading the Raptors with 4.5 fouls a game.
Limit the Turnovers
Another part of the game that seems to prevent the Raptors from winning, is their love for giving up turnovers.
In games they’ve given up 14 or more turnovers, they’re 5-0. That stat should hit them right in the face, especially since they’re also 7-0 when they given up less than 14 turnovers. Giving the Heat extra possessions is not the smartest way to win games, since it’ll also give them more of a chance to dictate the pace.
With both teams’ starting 7-foot centres out with injuries, they’ll be forced to put more of their minutes towards small ball lineups. The Heat have a bunch of sneaky defensive players, like Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, and Deng if he plays. They’re all capable of playing the passing lanes, and creating transition baskets with their playmaking ability.
X-Factor: Bismack Biyombo
With the small ball trend taking over this series, Bismack Biyombo needs to remind everyone it’s still a big man’s league. Biyombo may only stand at 6-foot-9, but he’s look like another specimen compared to Amare Stoudemire– the Heat’s starting centre.
Biyombo dunks, Lowry approves 👍https://t.co/XE5Ik666EN
— Fanly (@fanly) May 10, 2016
Biyombo has looked great in a starter’s role in the past two games, averaging 10 points on 80 per cent shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 steals in just 37 minutes a game. His most impressive quality has been his shot blocking ability, averaging 4 swats a game.
— SB Nation (@SBNation) May 12, 2016
All stats for this article are from NBA.com
You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97