Heat center Hassan Whiteside said he won't play in Game 7
Goran Dragic didn’t want to start looking ahead to this summer and the looming free agency of most of his Heat teammates.
“I feel like if we start talking too early then you’re already done, not focused about these games,” Dragic said several hours before Game 6. “You know, it’s not good timing to talk about that. We’re still alive.
“We’ve still got — hopefully, two games — at least two games left. That’s all that matters.”
The Heat, facing elimination Friday for the third time in these playoffs, will have at least one more game. Led by Dragic’s team-high 30 points, seven rebounds and four assists and 22 points, six rebounds and five assists from Dwyane Wade, the Heat advanced to another Game 7 with a 103-91 victory over the Toronto Raptors at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Dragic’s playoff career-high for scoring helped offset a combined 59 points from Toronto’s All-Star backcourt. Kyle Lowry finished with 36 points and DeMar DeRozan had 23, but it marked the first time in the series the higher-scoring backcourt didn’t win the game.
“Goran Dragic had a heck of a night,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “I thought Justise Winslow quietly had one of his best offensive games. Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts came in and had a contribution as well. They made shots that broke our back.”
Toronto will host Game 7 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
With a win Sunday, Miami would become the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-2 deficit twice in the same postseason and advance.
As much as Heat fans may have been hoping for some added help in Game 7, Hassan Whiteside, who missed his third consecutive game Friday with a sprained MCL, said he won't play Sunday but he will travel with the team.
“I don't really have a timetable for you,” Whiteside said of when he might return.
Friday, the Heat won for the second time in this series without Whiteside in the lineup and improved to 9-4 under Erik Spoelstra when it faces elimination in the playoffs.
The biggest reason: Spoelstra went small with his lineup and his team came up big.
“We’ve felt like we’ve been playing in mud,” Spoelstra said. “We looked a little bit more like us and Goran looked like him.”
The Heat waited until about eight minutes before the 8 p.m. scheduled tipoff to announce it was replacing 6-10, 245-pound center Amar’e Stoudemire in the starting lineup with the 6-7, 225-pound Winslow. The Raptors, though, probably had an inkling Miami’s small lineup was coming because of the success the Heat had with it in Game 4.
With Winslow, Dragic, Luol Deng, Wade and Joe Johnson for the final 4:48 of regulation and then five more minutes of overtime in Game 4, the Heat turned a 79-72 deficit into a 94-87 victory. Then, in Game 5, a similar small lineup with Richardson and Tyler Johnson rotating in for the injured Deng cut a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to 1 with under two minutes to play before the Raptors pulled away behind DeRozan and Lowry.
On Friday, the Heat’s lineup worked again. Miami went small for all but 18 minutes and 19 seconds in the game. Despite giving up size to the Raptors, Miami only lost the rebounding battle by two (43-41) and just scored just two fewer points in the paint than the Raptors (46-44).
“It was just one-on-one defense,” DeRozan said. “We’ve just got to buckle down, not try to rely on help so much. Every individual on our side just has to man-up and play one-on-one defense so we don't have to get in rotation where it involves guys getting to the basket, getting easy shots.”
McRoberts was the only big man who played for the Heat, and he had several big moments. He flew in for a tip-in dunk over Bismack Biyombo in the second quarter and then had a pair of tip-ins off misses in the fourth. McRoberts finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
Winslow, meanwhile, finished with 12 points and three rebounds in 26 minutes. But he had help throughout as Miami gang-rebounded and made sure to box out.
Said Wade: “Sometimes unconventional works.”
Miami missed 14 of its 21 in the opening quarter but still led 21-20 at the end of the period. The most impressive stat from the quarter: The Raptors didn’t have a single offensive rebound despite having a clear size advantage with the 6-9, 255-pound Biyombo and 6-9, 230-pound Patrick Patterson on the court for most of the quarter.
Dragic got hot in the second quarter, and the Heat took a 53-44 lead into the break. Dragic scored 14 points in the period. He didn’t stop there, scoring nine more points in the third quarter as the Heat went into the fourth quarter leading 82-72.
The Raptors cut Miami’s lead to as little as 88-82 on a Lowry drive with 8:46 remaining. But Dragic answered with a pullup jumper a minute later and then Wade took over down the stretch, scoring eight points in the fourth quarter.
Now, Game 7 looms. Wade is 5-2 all-time in Game 7s.
The Heat, as a franchise, has played a Game 7 only once on the road — a 2009 loss to Atlanta. “It’s just great to know how this team responds with our back against the wall,” Winslow said. “We have been building this character of having our backs against the wall the whole season.”