The players in the Miami Heat-Toronto Raptors playoff series are starting to look like characters in a Quentin Tarantino film.
They’re bruised and bleeding, unshaven, shooting from the hip, scrambling on the edge of desperation. This is raw basketball but somehow riveting. The Heat and Raptors have bestowed upon us the gut-knotting pleasure of a Game 7 on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s going to be fun,” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry said. “Just go out there and hoop.”
It’s must-see TV, if for no other reason than to discover what these wounded teams devise for their next strategy in hopes of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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The Heat tied the series with a 103-91 victory Friday at home during which coach Erik Spoelstra chose to play Lilliputian ball with 6-7 Justise Winslow at center. Spoelstra reverted to his “position-less” basketball concept. The Heat ran right past the Raptors and scored more than 100 points in regulation for the first time in this matchup.
“Our offense hasn’t looked like our offense,” Spoelstra said. “Toronto has really slowed us down. We felt like we’ve been playing in mud.”
The odds don’t favor Miami. They’re on the road. No team has come back from 3-2 deficits and won two playoff series in the same season.
But if the Heat can maintain its breakneck pace and toss in a few wrinkles, the Raptors have shown they are a brittle team that blows leads and can be broken.
“We’re going to have to fight,” Dwyane Wade said, practically spitting into the palms of his hands.
So much will hinge on the backcourt battle. Keep an eye on point guards Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry, who are finally hitting their stride. Watch how they work in tandem with Wade and DeMar DeRozan. If the Heat goes small again, the onus is on the Raptors to slow the tempo and contain them.
Dragic was the savior of Game 6, scoring 30 points on 12-for-21 shooting, adding seven rebounds and four assists. At last we’re seeing the player the Heat paid $85 million to acquire but who wasn’t able to hit the accelerator when the Heat played more of a half-court game with Chris Bosh.
Dragic was like a stunt driver in the lane Friday. No fear, no brakes. He’s tougher than he looks. Battered already by a black eye, a lost tooth, 13 stitches in his lower lip, a basketball in the nose and another elbow to the face, Dragic was gleeful as he nailed a jumper then waved his arms to the crowd asking for more noise.
“The way they played is the style he’s accustomed to: Going downhill and being shifty,” Lowry said. “You’ve got to pay attention to what he’s doing and where he is at all times.”
Dragic has been uneven in the postseason, but he has lifted his scoring average to 19.3 and his accuracy to 47.4 percent against Toronto.
“I was just aggressive,” Dragic said. “I don’t want to go home to Europe. The last time I was in the playoffs was six years ago. It’s awesome for me.”
The 6-3 Slovenian said he “awakened a little bit” in Game 5 when he cut through some gaps. The Heat, lacking the presence of injured center Hassan Whiteside, will attack the paint and stretch the floor.
“Me and Goran are always trying to get in the paint, and when we are able to see the floor open, we feel better about our chances,” Wade said. “We had like 40-something paint touches in the first half.”
Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Dragic hurt the Raptors more with his “in-between” pull-up jumpers than his layups. Lowry and DeRozan will have to do a better job of contracting the space Dragic and Wade have to operate in.
The Raptors’ All-Star guards combined for 59 points in Game 6, but they weren’t efficient, making just 20 of 48 field goals and only five assists.
Lowry is the more dangerous of the two now that he’s shaken a slump that made him the only NBA player to shoot below 40 percent in his first nine playoff games with a minimum of 10 shots per game. They’re not going to stop gunning with their center, Jonas Valanciunas, injured, too. They have managed to get to the free-throw line 77 times compared with Dragic and Wade’s 54 times.
DeRozan said a key is to react quickly to the Heat’s defensive switches and turn rebounds into transition baskets.
Lowry will be the most difficult assignment for the Heat.
“Whoever is guarding him has to lock in,” Luol Deng said. “Toronto’s going to have to pick their poison: taking away penetration or the perimeter.
“It’s up to us to go spoil the party.”