Toronto captures an unimpressive 96-92 overtime victory in which its stagnant offense prevails over Miami's careless ballhandling
POSTED: May 12, 2016 3:44 AM ET
Game 7: Raptors 116, Heat 89
Kyle Lowry leads Toronto to its first appearance in the East finals.
TORONTO — If the Cleveland Cavaliers have been watching the other Eastern Conference semifinals series on their nights off, they're trying to figure out where they'll be going out to dinner in San Francisco, San Antonio or Oklahoma City next month, because neither the Miami Heat nor the Toronto Raptors look like a team that will pose much of a threat in the conference finals when the Cavs eventually get there.
The Raptors evened this series 1-1 with a 96-92 overtime victory on Thursday, an ugly game that was a lot like the Heat's overtime win two nights earlier. The winner of each game has scored exactly a point per possession, a mark that you'd get if you just sent Dwight Howard to the free throw line every time down the floor.
These games haven't been much prettier than that scenario. What offense there's been has come slowly and on disjointed possessions with little ball or player movement. The Raptors had the league's lowest assist ratio (AST/FGM) in the regular season at 51 percent, and they've combined with the Heat to register one of 37 percent through the first two games. Kobe Bryant is watching these games and wondering why no one's passing the ball.
The Raptors won on Thursday because the Heat passed the ball to the wrong team early and often. Miami committed 15 live-ball turnovers and Toronto scored 22 points (1.5 per possession) on the ensuing possessions. On trips down the floor that started with dead balls or defensive rebounds, the Raptors scored just 0.9 points per possession.
Their half-court offense was generally brutal, with pick-and-rolls that went nowhere and many pull-up, mid-range jumpers. The Raptors had a top-five offense in the regular season and for much of the night, they were unable to score unless the Heat handed them the ball and gave them a head-start down the floor.
"We're not getting a lot of movement," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of his team's half-court offense after Game 2. "That's really the issue. In pick-and-rolls, everyone's standing."
Toronto did get some half-court scores down the stretch, when the Raptors erased a six-point deficit with less than four minutes to go in regulation and scored the first six points of overtime. They didn't exactly start moving the ball like the Spurs, but Jonas Valanciunas saved his team when it was in true danger of going down 2-0, with the next two games on the road.
We're not getting a lot of movement. That's really the issue. In pick-and-rolls, everyone's standing.
– Raptors coach Dwane Casey
While Kyle Lowry (who also had a couple of big baskets late) and DeMar DeRozan combined for 38 points on 46 shots, Valanciunas was given just five post-up opportunities in Game 2. He made the most of them, shooting 3-for-4 against Hassan Whiteside and Amar'e Stoudemire on post-ups. And his two biggest buckets came off plays that weren't run for him. There was a follow off a Lowry miss that got the Raptors within two with 2½ minutes left in regulation, and a tip-in off a DeRozan free throw that put them up two with just over a minute to go.
In overtime, Valanciunas drained a foul-line jumper off a short roll after setting a screen for Lowry. He finished with 15 points on just nine shots, registering a game-high plus-17 in 38 minutes. If the Raptors have a way to get better offensively as this series moves to Miami, it's to play through their big man more often.
"I think we can always include him more," Lowry said. "Some games it's not for him to get plays called for him. But when he did get some plays called for him, he made some plays.
"He was hungry tonight."
The Heat's path to a more efficient offense obviously starts with taking care of the ball. Twelve of their 15 live-ball turnovers took place in the first quarter, the fourth quarter and overtime, the three periods that they lost on Thursday.
"Spotting a good team like this roughly 20 extra possessions," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "that's tough to overcome."
Spotting a good team like this roughly 20 extra possessions, that's tough to overcome.
– Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on his team's 21 turnovers
But Miami's offensive issues go beyond the miscues. They've relied too much on their veteran shot-makers and haven't been able to get good shots when the Raptors have stymied their paint attacks. In Game 1, they bailed themselves out by shooting 11-for-20 in the last six seconds of the shot clock, an unsustainable mark. In Game 2, they were 6-for-20 in the last six seconds of the clock.
"Our spacing has to be better," Spoelstra said, "guys moving into spots so the ball can see energy, and making some easier plays against second situations. We had opportunities where we were scoring on initial actions, but these last two games were not two of our better ball movement games, which we'll have to correct."
The Eastern Conference had a bit of a renaissance this season. But while the Cavs are setting 3-point records on one side of the bracket, the other side has turned into a slog.
"It's a grind," DeRozan said. "We knew that it wasn't going to be pretty, nothing was going to come out pretty. As long as we come out with a W, it really don't matter how we're playing."
The rules say that one of these teams has to win this series. But things will need to change if either is going to scare the team that has already won 13 straight playoff games within the conference.
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