The Toronto Raptors are back at it again with another chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. They’ll have to do it though against three-time NBA Champion Dwayne Wade and his Miami Heat in Game 7.
It’s been a replica of round one with the Raptors dropping games 1, 4 and 6 while winning 2, 3 and 5. Game 6 was the only game in the series that was decided by double digits. But the hard-work during the season has paid off as the Raptors will have a chance to advance on their home floor.
Jonas Valanciunas will not be making a hopeful early return from injury. However, on the other side neither will Hassan Whiteside as he has also been ruled out. Meanwhile both DeMarre Carroll and Luol Deng are dealing with wrist contusions, while DeMar DeRozan will continue to rely on his red shoelace to manage his injured right thumb.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Catch the Flash
Dwayne Wade has turned back the clock this post-season averaging 21.8 points a game and already surpassing his 3-point total from the regular season. He has shown the hunger and fight that has won him 3 NBA Championships. While two of those championships came beside two other superstars, they would not have been won if it wasn’t for his clutch shot-making and ability to rise in big moments.
The Raptors problem with Wade has been dealing with him off screens. He’s has a variety of go-to moves that make him tough to stop. But the Raptors have a number of good on-the-ball defenders. When Wade has gotten the Raptors to switch on him defensively, he has taken advantage and shows a perfect example of the aggressiveness that we’d like to see from our own all-stars.
It’s no doubt how important stopping Wade will be to winning the game.
Know your opponent
The Miami Heat have been the best defensive team in these playoffs and were third best to finish the season. A large part of that has been the presence of Hassan Whiteside on the inside. Without Whiteside, the Heat have no rim protection and so the Raptors need to take advantage of that. We need to try and get the ball inside every time down the court. That will lead to higher percentage shots both close to the rim and beyond the three-point line.
On the Other end of the floor the Heat, much like the Indiana Pacers, rely on one guy for their offense. But if we forget about their other options, the Raptors will spend tomorrow morning cleaning out their lockers. The Heat are better because they have Raptor killers like Joe Johnson and sharpshooters like Goran Dragic. The Raptors need to do a good job of tracking their guys and moving their feet. We need to hope Wade gets as little support as possible.
The Raptors have done a poor job of closing quarters this series. It seems the final two minutes of every quarter has been owned by Miami. The great Jack Armstrong is a big advocate of closing quarters and rightfully so, as a team can grab a momentum boost before taking a breather and coming back with fresh legs. There are a lot of things about the Raptors that are unusual. Why must they always give up big leads? Why must it always come down to a game 7? How have they come this far with their all-stars having an overall historically bad post-season? Nevertheless they are here and they will need to close quarters to go further, especially the fourth where #Lowrytime must defeat the killer that is Dwayne Wade.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry
Any win the Raptors have, it’s because Kyle Lowry has affected the game in some way. Whether it be a half-court heave to tie the game, clutch buckets in overtime or becoming an assistant coach when he’s not on the floor, Lowry has been the engine that runs the Raptors. He is our all-star, he finished top-10 in MVP voting and he will be the reason we win this game. Don’t expect him to play 48 minutes, but he sure as heck should play close to it. After all, the Raptors only have a negative point-differential when he’s not on the court and if it could be the last game of the season, I want Lowry to have the ball as much as he can.
All stats from this article are from basketball.realgm.com