8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Toronto -5, Over/Under: 188
After a thrilling first installment of this Eastern Conference Semifinal, the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors clash again in Game Two at Air Canada Centre, with the latter hoping finally break out of the funk they’ve been mired in over the past two weeks. The Raptors (56-26, 1st in Atlantic Division) enjoyed their finest campaign in the franchise’s brief history, and last Sunday reached another benchmark, advancing past the First Round of the Playoffs for the first time in fifteen years after a grueling seven-game set with the Pacers. However, there were long stretches throughout that series in which they didn’t play particularly well, with the team’s pair of All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan proving wildly inconsistent. Many believed that it was just due to the pressure of expectations, and that they would be relieved after Sunday’s triumphant victory, but after Tuesday’s 102-96 defeat that clearly doesn’t appear to be the case. Many of the things that Toronto struggled with continued to afflict them against Miami, as they continued to shoot poorly from the perimeter, knocking down just 5-of-21 three-pointers (23.8%), while failing to make much of an impact from the Free-Throw Line (11-of-15, 73.3%). Furthermore, they got absolutely battered on the glass, as they were outrebounded by a whopping fifteen boards, while never enjoying much in the way of transition, totaling only nine Fast Break Points. And once again, the issue here has been the play of the aforementioned Lowry and DeRozan. It’s hard to win games when your two stars are shooting below 40.0%, let alone in the Playoffs, for at this point it’s the stars of the league that prove to be the difference. In Tuesday’s loss, DeRozan (23.5 points, 44.6% FG, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steal) scored twenty-two points on 9-of-22 shooting from the field (40.9%), along with six rebounds, four assists, and a steal, while Lowry (21.2 points, 42.7% FG, 4.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.1 steals) was relegated to a mere seven points on 3-of-13 shooting from the floor (23.1%), including a dismal 1-of-7 from beyond the arc (14.3%), along with four rebounds, six assists, and three steals. In fact, the latter’s only three-point field goal was a half court heave at the end of Regulation which sent the contest into Overtime. However, instead of enjoying new life in the extra period, the home side only appeared more sluggish, as they were outscored twelve points to six over the extra five minutes of play. Believe it or not, they only attempted five shots in Overtime (making just two), while committing a pair of crucial turnovers inside the final minute of action. Head Coach Dwayne Casey simply must find a way to coax more production out of Lowry, who ever since getting his shooting elbow drained back in early April has seen his shooting percentages swoon to new lows. It’s become a legitimate argument at this point as to whether or not his presence on the court is helping or hurting his team. After all, the supporting cast has played pretty well this postseason, with Jonas Valanciunas having his way in the paint with 14.9 points per game on 52.2% shooting from the field, including 12.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks, and Corey Joseph averaging 10.6 points on 58.2% shooting from the floor, including 55.6% from downtown, along with 2.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 steals.
Meanwhile, Miami (48-34, 1st in Southeast Division) must be absolutely thrilled to see their opponent struggle so, as they now have the opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 series lead heading back to American Airlines Arena this weekend. The Heat endured a grueling seven-game series of their own in the First Round, completely white-washing the Charlotte Hornets in a 106-73 debacle on Sunday. Eric Spoelstra’s charges clearly looked like the more veteran, experienced team in Game One against the Raptors, warding off just about every run that the home side could make in the extremely close affair. The visitors shot 44.9% from the field, including a blistering 8-of-11 from beyond the arc (72.7%), despite only assisting on a dozen of their forty field goals. However, in a game featuring a largely stagnant pace, they managed to score thirteen Fast Break Points, and even though they committed twenty turnovers they still held a 22-16 advantage in points off mistakes. With All-Star Power Forward Chris Bosh (19.1 points, 46.7% FG, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists) pronounced out for the remainder of the Playoffs due to blood clots in his legs, Miami received a stellar performance from their Backcourt as Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic combined for fifty points on 20-of-41 shooting from the field (48.8%), including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc (80.0%), along with twelve rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Speaking of steals, it was Wade’s two critical steals inside of the final minute of Overtime that ultimately decided the game, particularly his theft of DeMar DeRozan with just four seconds to play and the Heat leading by three points. Wiley veterans Joe Johnson and Luol Deng added another twenty-six points on 11-of-28 shooting (39.3%), while defensive stalwart Hassan Whiteside registered nine points, seventeen rebounds, two steals, and a block, after sustaining a quick score in the first Quarter straining his right knee slipping on a wet spot on the court. One of the most improved young players in the league, Whiteside (14.2 points, 60.6% FG, 11.8 rebounds, 3.7 blocks) is set to cash in in a major way come Free Agency, but in the meantime continues to build his resume’, almost singlehandedly bullying Toronto on the glass; of Miami’s sixty-two rebounds, all but eleven were of the defensive variety, meaning that Whiteside and Co. held the Raptors to just one shot on a high percentage of their possessions. Indeed, the 26-year old has come a long was from the D-League. Of course, it was almost all for naught, as Kyle Lowry’s miracle heave from Halfcourt put the visitors into a predicament that they were lucky to escape. Thankfully, their defensive intensity did not waver in the extra period, as they held Toronto scoreless over the first 3:46 of Overtime.