The Toronto Raptors have made the second round of the playoffs for the first time since Vince Carter and the 2001 Raps knocked off the New York Knicks 3-2, and tonight they host the Miami Heat in Game 1 of their quarter-final match up.
The Raps scraped through the first round against the Pacers, barely holding on in the fourth quarter of Game 7 to advance. Toronto only scored 11 points in the last frame, and watched a 17 point lead at the end of third dissolve into a 3 point margin by games end.
Overall, it was a difficult series to watch, with Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan struggling to find their groove against a team that they went 3-1 against during the regular season. Both stars shot around the 30% mark during the series, and under 20% from the perimeter. Lowry redeemed himself somewhat in the intangibles category, and Demar had a big Game five where he tallied 34 points, but overall the performance from the duo was lacking.
On the bright side the bench play from the likes of Pickering’s Corey Joseph, Norman Powell, and Bismack Biyombo helped keep the Rap’s afloat in the first round, and the depth doesn’t show any signs of slowing down against the Heat, who are short in their rotation.
Powell averaged 6.4 points in 18 minutes of play, a deceptively low number for how important his energy was coming off the bench. His continued contribution will become even more important against the Heat, who’s second line is a significant drop off from their starting five.
For Miami, things were looking good against Kemba Walker and the Hornets, until Charlotte took three games in a row to put them up 3-2 and heading back home for Game six.
Despite the pressure Dwayne Wade kept his composure in North Carolina and led the Heat with 23 points on their way to a 97-90 win and a ticket back to Miami for Game 7. From there it was all Goran Dragic, who led the Heat with 25 en route to a 106-73 statement in Game 7.
The Squad from South Beach, who despite losing Chris Bosh mid-season, have been playing incredibly well as a unit, with all five of their starters averaging double digit contributions in Round 1.
That was also the first playoff appearance for the Heat in the post-Mario Chalmers era (I think LeBron was there too…)
In the regular season the Raps took the series against Miami 3-1, but each game was a different story. Toronto got manhandled in the first matchup thanks to the effort of Twin Towers Hasaan Whiteside and Chris Bosh. Bosh however has not played since February after another blood-clotting scare, and is not expected to play against Toronto.
In their last game of the regular season, T.O needed overtime to beat the Wade-less Heat, who relied on mid-season acquisition Joe Johnson to contribute 28 in the loss.
It will be important for the Rap’s starting five to set the tone against the Heat, keeping Miami on their heels right out of the gate. If Toronto’s starting line, led by Lowry and DeRozan, can play the way that got them to 2nd in the East, the Raps should be able to easily handle the Heat.
Miami won’t go down without a fight though, and Raps fan remember and fear the likes of Joe Johnson, who walked over us with Brooklyn two playoffs ago.
The true X-factor for this series will be the play of DeMarre Carroll as he lines up against Johnson, and his ability to lock down the small forward.
Stay tuned to NPH for more Raptors coverage throughout the second round.