Ethan J. Skolnick

Heat shakes off all the bad to score a big Game 1 win over Toronto in OT

You don’t often get a second chance to make a first impression on a series, so naturally the Heat should feel fortunate now, fortunate that it was able to fall flat on its face, and just have a scratch to show for it. After all, it isn’t often that a team squanders a six-point lead in the final seven seconds, and can sneak off smiling about it.

But, even after all the errors late — the failed inbounds, the flubbed free throws, the curious call not to crowd Kyle Lowry before he could launch from outer Ontario and maybe out-of-bounds — the Heat gathered itself in the overtime to take a 1-0 lead in this series, winning 102-96.

Something good must be taken from that, as from the first 47-plus minutes, when Miami, at least on the defensive end, did precisely what it wanted to do. For, as weary as the Heat was, entering the second round, with no one wearier than the video crew that had to prepare for the possibility of either Toronto or Indiana, it was able to devise a workable plan in the space between.

The Raptors didn’t come with a mountain of mystery. They’re basically what they’ve been for three seasons; built from the backcourt out, with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan dominating the ball, the shots, and the private time at the free throw line.

They hardly dominated the Heat on Tuesday, even when factoring in Lowry’s late miracle heave. And so long as that continues, the Heat’s odds to win this series get shorter.

DeRozan was clearly Miami’s primary focus; Spoelstra spoke openly after shootaround about how “he got everything he wanted against us” during the regular season, averaging nearly 30 points. It was clear the Heat would rotate assignments to wear him down, starting with Dwyane Wade, but also Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, Justise Winslow and maybe even a little Josh Richardson, all trying to get him from going “downhill,” getting fouled, getting his rhythm.

And while the Heat didn’t slow DeRozan completely — he finished with 22 points -- he never looked completely comfortable in missing 13 of his 22 shots. When he would get past one defender, as he did, briefly, by Deng with two minutes left, there would be another — in that case, the swatting Wade -- there to meet him.

Lowry looked far more lost.

An All-Star two times running, his shot’s been AWOL against Miami this season (just 34 percent in the four prior games) and even worse (31.6 percent) in the seven-game series against Indiana. Toronto media members, pointing to a precipitous plunge in his efficiency, believe he’s been hiding the severity of an elbow injury for a couple of months.

“I got a brand new series,” Lowry said after Tuesday’s shootaround. “Brand new life.”

Same old struggle, though.

He didn’t score in the first 22 minutes, and finished just 3-for-12 for four points, including 1-for-7, just the crazy one, from three-point range. Lowry didn’t attempt a free throw, after averaging 6.4 in the regular season; DeRozan had just six, after averaging 8.4. And Lowry’s former teammate Goran Dragic (26 points, 10 of 20) clearly got the better of their matchup.

The Raptors may take some solace making the Heat sweat, in light of how their two top players performed. They won 56 games this season, eight more than Miami. They have a formula, and it may not take long to find it.

But, in losing a Game 1 for the ninth time in 10 tries in franchise history, the Raptors also showed some of their hand, going smaller at the start than they had all season. More critically, Lowry showed he still isn’t right, which is one reason the Heat can feel all right, no matter how wrong the last few seconds of regulation went.

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