Annihilated by 27 points in its last visit here, a Game 7 playoff loss six months ago, the Heat was right there Friday, down by just three to begin the fourth and by five midway through the quarter.
Alas, there wasn’t enough firepower for the Heat, which shot 6 for 22 in a 15-point fourth quarter and succumbed 96-87 to the Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
“We had some tough offensive possessions where we could have gotten something better,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They were so committed to take away our drives.”
The Heat went the first 4:35 of the fourth without a field goal, missing its first seven shots.
“In the fourth, we were not focused enough, made too many mistakes offensively and defensively,” guard Goran Dragic said. “They contested our shots. Everybody was packing the paint. We tried to force it over them.”
Beyond that, there were no Heat answers for sizzling Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, who scored 34 and became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986 to open a season with five consecutive games of 30 points or more.
Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21 points, 16 rebounds, one block and an unusually high three assists) did all he could, outplaying Jonas Valanciunas (five points, 11 rebounds) and setting a Heat record with his fifth consecutive double-double to start a season.
“He was tremendous, really impactful, making better reads on both ends,” Spoelstra said.
Tyler Johnson scored 16 off the bench, continuing an impressive start to the season.
But Dragic, who scored 13 of his 17 in the first half, didn’t score in the second half until barely more than two minutes left in the game (he shot 2 for 6 after halftime) and closed with four turnovers, compared with five assists.
And there wasn’t enough offensive support elsewhere. Dion Waiters had his fourth poor shooting game in five outings, missing six of eight shots on a four-point night.
Waiters, as usual, went hard to the rim but didn’t get to the free-throw line.
“It’s frustrating when you can’t get to the line,” he said. “I can’t blame it on officials. Just want it to be fair. I’m going to the rack pretty much on every shot.”
Justise Winslow (13 points) missed his first seven shots, closing 5 for 18 from the field, with many of those misses in the paint.
“All the shots I know I can make,” he said. “I threw up some crazy ones in the paint, thought I got fouled.”
And Luke Babbitt scored just three on 1 for 5 shooting.
Josh Richardson, playing his first game of the season after being sidelined nearly two months with a knee injury, played key fourth-quarter minutes but finished 0 for 4 from the field in 12 scoreless minutes, with a steal and two turnovers.
“I felt fine,” he said. “I’ve got to trust my knee fully. I’ve got to find a rhythm. I told Spo going into halftime that I felt good. My teammates were encouraging me the whole game. I feel ready.”
Spoelstra called Richardson’s return “an encouraging sign. I think he will catch up pretty quick.”
Down by 16, the Heat climbed back into the game thanks in part to James Johnson, who scored nine of his 11 in the third, leaving Miami down 75-72 heading to the fourth.
But then Miami went cold. Winslow shot 2 for 8 in the fourth, Tyler Johnson 1 for 4 and Richardson 0 for 2. The Heat shot 1 for 6 on threes in the fourth, and ball movement wasn’t nearly good enough.
“When we share the ball, we’re a really good team,” Dragic said. “Most teams will defend the paint because they’re afraid we’re going to attack.”
Besides DeRozan’s huge night, the Raptors got 20 from Terrence Ross, who ignited Toronto’s first-half rally with 16 points before intermission.
The Heat stormed to an early 12-point lead, but Toronto then scored a bunch of quick baskets — including several threes — and went to halftime up 52-46.
On a night Richardson returned from his knee injury, Spoelstra kept Rodney McGruder in the rotation and went 10 players deep, opting to use everyone available except Udonis Haslem and Derrick Williams.
The question is when Williams will get his chance to play, amid uneven play at power forward.
The Heat (2-3) completes this odd Canada/Oklahoma two-game trip with a Monday game against the Thunder.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s quest to achieve optimal offensive rhythm. “We’re close.”