The Toronto Raptors have a chance to take a 3-1 series lead as they face the Miami Heat in game 4 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.
In game 3 the Raptors regained their home court advantage, headed by the return of #LowryTime. A win tonight for the Raptors will give them their biggest playoff series lead in franchise history and put them on the brink of a spot in the Eastern conference final.
Both teams were struck by injuries last game. Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas has been ruled out of the remainder of the series with a sprained ankle, while for Miami centre Hassan Whiteside is listed as day to day with a sprained knee however has been ruled out for tonight and seems unlikely to feature much more in the series.This is significant, as both centres have been integral. JV has been the Raptors’ best player offensively, while Whiteside is a strong rim protector. It will become a guard-oriented series from here.
Toronto was also forced to deal with an injury to Valanciunas during the regular season and will now likely turn to reserve Bismack Biyombo in the starting role. The Raptors also have rarely used veteran Jason Thompson and second year Brazilian Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira on their books and could increase the minutes of either of them in an attempt to fill the hole left by an untimely injury. Miami are likely to turn to 35 year old franchise legend Udonis Haslem who has been with the organization since 2003 and a washed up Amar’e Stoudamire.
The show must go on, and Toronto can hopefully look to their all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan when needed.
Cage’s keys to the game
A key strength for the Raptors during much of the regular season and at times in the Pacers series was the ability to drive to the basket. So far in this series it has proved slightly more difficult as the league’s leading shot blocker Hassan Whiteside lurked the paint. With him gone the Raptors have a great opportunity to return to something they had been doing really well, so expect to see Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan start going inside more.
Free throw importance
Both Raptor wins have seen Miami force Toronto to close it out with free throws. The team actually struggled during game 2’s regulation but in the extra period an improved performance saw Toronto close it out after going 6-8. Saturday’s game saw the Raptors go 9-11 in the final quarter and improve to 79% overall. Once again the ability to make shots from the line could be the difference, especially if the emphasis on driving to the basket is enforced.
Next man up
As is often the case in sports the success for the team may come down to who steps up when needed. In this series for both teams that is now definitely the scenario. The response Bismack Biyombo brings in a starting role will be critical. Jason Thompson and Lucas Nogueira also have the ability to provide a spark. Big men such as Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola will also be of importance. The Raptors squad depth is likely to once again be tested in this one.
X-Factor- Kyle Lowry
In game 3 Lowry returned to his best and took over in the fourth quarter which allowed the Raptors to grab a big win. Now in game 4 if he can do it again the Raptors will be on the verge of more history in a season that has continued to produce. We have seen in form Lowry take over before and once again Toronto will turn to its all-star hoping that he can carry the load.