Following Wednesday’s shootaround at Air Canada Center, Dwyane Wade was explaining why he prefers the playoffs to the regular season. Much of that is related to the stakes, of course, but it’s also due to the chess.
“You have to come with a counter,” Wade said. “You have to have counters. And in the playoffs, now we’re in Game 5, you countered, you have to have another counter. So I always go into a game understanding, ‘OK, if they take this away, what else do I have?’ And if they take that away, what else do I have?’”
Well, now, after another disjointed offensive performance, and another potentially disastrous injury to a core player — this time Luol Deng — it’s a reasonable question to ask the Heat:
What else does it have?
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What else, after this 99-91 loss in Game 5?
We’ll find out Friday, as this often-unwatchable exercise in attrition returns to South Florida.
Why does the Heat have hope it can come back from down 3-2 in a series?
“We did it already,” Goran Dragic said.
Sure, against Charlotte in the first round.
But no team in NBA history has done it twice in the same postseason.
“We’ll be all right,” Justise Winslow said. “Game 6 is at home.”
It is, but Game 7 would be back here, on the road. Maybe the Heat can take some hope in shared misery. The Raptors are hurting too. They were already without center Jonas Valanciunas. Backcourt mates Kyle Lowry (elbow) and Demar DeRozan (thumb) were already nursing injuries — “it feels like a blowtorch on my hand,” DeRozan said after scoring 34. And late Wednesday night, forward DeMarre Carroll was headed to a Toronto hospital for an MRI on a wrist that bent the wrong way.
This series is like chess?
Sure, in the sense that pieces on each side keep coming off the board.
The Heat loses a starting center (Hassan Whiteside).
The Raptors lose a starting center (Valanciunas).
The Heat’s versatile forward (Deng) injures his wrist.
The Raptors’ versatile forward (Carroll) injures his wrist.
This series has turned into a battle for the Green Party nomination.
Nice honor, for sure, and it gets you on the conference finals ballot.
But does anyone expect either of these tattered teams to take the NBA’s general election? To be anything more than an afterthought?
That would be tough enough even if the Heat and Raptors were totally healthy, considering that the Cavaliers, Warriors and either the Thunder or Spurs will be in the final four. But now? Both of these teams endure prolonged scoring droughts, even when granted plentiful open looks. Wednesday, Miami missed 13 of its first 17 shots, falling behind by 20 in the second quarter.
Why the slow start?
“I have no idea,” said Joe Johnson, who finally made a three-pointer, but dropped to 1-of-17 from long range in the series.
“They were more physical tonight,” Dragic said.
They did climb back late in the half, cutting the deficit to 10 on a 10-0 burst, led by the previously-stifled Dragic.
Spoelstra tried just about everything in the second half to sustain the spurt, starting Josh McRoberts over Amare Stoudemire, subbing in high-energy (but low efficiency) Gerald Green, even giving Tyler Johnson his most extended run (13 minutes) since the shoulder injury that sidelined the guard for more than two months. And he had to keep adjusting, after losing Deng, who was having a horrible shooting night (0 for 8) but still serves to make small lineups work.
Deng stumbled over a cameraman behind the baseline in the first half, and used his wrist to brace his fall while backpedaling. Then, in the third quarter, the wrist started to swell. The X-rays were inconclusive, and — after the team stayed overnight as planned in Toronto — Deng was scheduled to get an MRI back in Miami on Thursday morning.
“I wanted to play through it,” Deng said. “But (the Heat doctor) thought, just to be safe, (to sit), because we weren’t sure exactly from the x-ray.”
He said he’d play Friday, so long as there isn’t structural damage that makes it dangerous. If he can’t, Spoelstra may again need to turn to the unconventional late lineup of Wade, Dragic, Joe Johnson, Winslow and Josh Richardson, that miraculously got the Heat within a single point late. Winslow was the center. Or Johnson was the center. Actually, no one was really sure. But, in Wade’s sure hands, the Heat gave Toronto a scare, with his stepback jumper and two free throws closing out his slow-developing 20-point outing.
Then, with Miami trailing 90-87 following DeRozan’s two free throws, Wade was trapped and passed to Dragic probing the lane.
“I stepped on the guy’s foot and then slipped a little bit,” Dragic said.
He made a wild pass toward Winslow in the corner.
After that turnover, Lowry made a three-pointer.
Then, after Wade’s 12-foot pullup got the Heat back within four, Lowry made a 12-footer. The Raptors point guard still had a sketchy shooting night (9 for 25), but the late heroics will get much of Canada off his back for a bit. He and DeRozan combined for 59 points, compared to 33 for Wade and Dragic, and the winner of that matchup has won every game of this series.
“Both of those guys are good players, but what beat us tonight was a slow start,” Wade said.
Now the Raptors have a chance to finish the series, Friday, in Miami.
After check, that would be mate.
As Wade put it early Wednesday: “The playoffs are when the lights are on, and everyone is analyzing everything. You get to see the importance of a player really. When a team is scouting you, you have no other nothing, and you come out with something. To me, those (times) are very, very special.”
It will take something extra special now, to save this season.