After Monday’s hideous Game 4, which saw the Toronto Raptors blow a late lead and falter in overtime against the Miami Heat, this second-round series feels something like this:
The series is once again tied, and both teams are likely looking to just get Game 5 started so they erase the memory of what was yet another ugly, inefficient basketball game.
But enough has been written about Game 4, and quite frankly I don’t feeling dredging up my memories of it. So let’s look ahead to this evening’s match-up which tips off at 8 p.m. EST at the Air Canada Centre.
Let’s remember for a moment the position in which the Raptors find themselves: entering Game 5 of a best-of-seven second round series in which they have home court advantage. The series is now a best of three, and two of those games will be played in Toronto. Despite some poor play, the Raptors still have a considerable advantage and should be the favorites to make it to their first Eastern Conference Final.
Of course, they’re going to have to play considerably better if they hope to do so.
Cage’s Keys To The Game
All Stars need to step up, or have a short leash
After all-star point guard Kyle Lowry showed he had resurrected his game from an ugly shooting slump by dropping 33 points in Game 3, he laid another egg in Game 4 – shooting 2-of-11 and fouling out with two minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Lowry, as usual, did his best to contribute in other ways (he finished with nine assists and seven rebounds). Also as usual, the team was largely in shambles when he wasn’t on the court. Because of these factors, he can be forgiven for bad shooting, as long as he continues to impact the game elsewhere. But good shooting would be nice.
His All Star counterpart, DeMar DeRozan, was much worse. I’m no doctor, nor have I ever met DeRozan, but I imagine his thumb is bothering him quite a bit. While he has been shooting poorly throughout the postseason, he has at least always been reliable from the free throw line. But since Game 1, when he injured the thumb scrambling for a loose ball, he has shot a miserable 10-of-20 from the stripe. If the thumb is impacting his performance this much, he needs to be honest with the coaching staff so adjustments can be made. The onus is also on the coaching staff to make said adjustments. So far, it seems as though they’re living in denial.
This could apply to the players, who need to be assertive and aggressive from the opening tip, but I’m specifically referring to coach Dwane Casey. The Heat will be missing imposing centre Hassan Whiteside for the second straight game, as he’s sidelined with an MCL sprain. This means the Raptors, who are also missing centre Jonas Valanciunas, will once again need to use Bismack Biyombo as the primary option at that position. Miami showed it has no counter for Biyombo down low, as they surrendered 13 rebounds to him and were blocked twice. Biyombo also led the team with a plus/minus of 11, one of only two players (the other being Patrick Patterson) on the positive side for the Raptors.
Biyombo needs to play as much as possible. What he gives up in offence, he more than makes up defensively and on the glass. The final stretches of the fourth quarter and overtime on Monday showed that Miami has the edge when both teams go small, as their large wing players like Justice Winslow can out-rebound the Raptors small-ball looks. When Biyombo can’t play, it might be worth giving Jason Thompson a look at centre, who should be more than capable of matching Heat replacement bigs like Josh McRoberts.
*Half-assed Arnold Schwarzenegger impression* “Get to da riiiiiiiim!”
Even though Whiteside was out, at times in Game 4 it looked the Raptors believed a better rim protector had replaced him. Even though the Heat had no shot-blocking presence, the Raptors were even more reluctant to attack the basket than they were when Whiteside was playing. To the Heat’s credit, they were doing a solid job of keeping one foot in the paint and shutting down lanes. But it’s not like that’s new to the Raptors, who have made their money all season by finding a way through similar defences.
With Lowry and DeRozan shooting the way they are, this is the logical solution to score some easy baskets. With Miami hedging into the paint, this should open up even more options to kick the ball out and knock down dome open 3s. Hopefully none of this is new information for the Raptors, though.
X-factor: Cory Joseph
With Lowry and DeRozan playing the way they were, Joseph carved up the Heat’s tight defence in Game 4. Joseph has been Toronto’s most consistent option throughout the playoffs thus far, and he needs to continue to build on that in Game 5. On the defensive end, he’s down some of his best work against Dwyane Wade, as he’s found a way to stay in front of him on drives, and forced him into some difficult shots (Wade somehow makes a lot of those shots, but there’s not much else anyone can do about that).
Follow Matt Jamieson on Twitter @mattjamieson12