Game No. 25: Heat 95, Raptors 89

The Raptors were coming off of a nice home win against the lowly Wizards on Friday night, but obviously needed a much bigger and better effort against the star-studded Heat for their Super Bowl Sunday matinee. Well, they delivered, even despite the loss.

Now here are six thoughts on the game:

1- For the last couple of days leading up to this game, I’ve heard Dwane Casey and Raptors players talk about how they had to come out swinging. I wondered if they could really match the Heat’s intensity to start, but they actually more than matched it. The starting five of Calderon, Bayless, DeRozan, James Johnson and Gray did, in fact, come out swinging, and had a 15-14 lead five minutes into the ball game, rather than already being in a deep hole. Though they failed to win the first quarter for the 13th straight game, the Raptors set a competitive tone early on that they kept up for the majority of the game.

2- Where it went wrong. The Raptors did a good job of punching back and battling against some Heat pushes in the first half, but you had to know Miami had at least one big run in them, and it eventually came in the third quarter. The Raps turned the ball over six times over about a six-minute span, and the Heat went on an 18-3 run to stretch a one-point lead all the way up to 16. For all intents and purposes, that’s when the result of this ball game was cemented. Leandro Barbosa’s careless offence really cost Toronto during this Miami run.

3- I wonder what this game would have looked like if Jose Calderon had been his usual self today. The usually cautious Calderon, who leads the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, was glued to the bench for the majority of the second half with five turnovers compared to just three assists. Jerryd Bayless played well enough in Calderon’s absence, and made some big buckets to keep the game close down the stretch, but at times it was obvious the Raptors were missing a true distributor in their offence.

4- DeMar DeRozan picked a pretty good game to put together one of his best performances of the season. DeRozan scored 25 points on just 16 field goal attempts and got to the free throw line 11 times. He attacked the basket relentlessly, took the action right to LeBron James and for the most part, kept his intensity up despite guarding LeBron or Dwyane Wade on the defensive end. DeMar was most impressive in the first quarter, where he scored 11 points and showed off a surprising offensive arsenal by scoring in a variety of ways. We saw this from DeRozan last Sunday against the Nets, but he was unable to build off of that performance. Hopefully he can make something out of this one.

On a random sidenote for DeRozan, he is now tied with Vince Carter for the third longest streak of consecutive starts (107) in franchise history. DeRozan deserves credit for starting so many NBA games at such a young age, but make no mistake, it’s also a sign of how thin the Raptors have been at the wing positions in recent years.

5- Another young piece of the puzzle that I thought stepped up today was Ed Davis. His numbers (eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks in 29 minutes) may not jump off the page, but watching Davis against the Heat was encouraging. He was active on defence and on the glass, he was moving well off the ball, and he was the efficient offensive player (four-of-five from the field) that we saw last season. Over the last week or so, Davis is starting to look more like the impressive rookie that gave us high hopes, and today, even made a couple of face-up mid-range shots that could make him a much more complete player. Could this be the beginning of Davis finally rounding into form this season?

6- Perspective and expectations. In this rebuilding season more about growth and development rather than wins and losses, it’s important for Raptors fans, just like coaches and management, to have some perspective and temper expectations. Despite the loss, Toronto’s 25th in 33 games played, this was definitely one of their best performances. Without their best player in Andrea Bargnani, against a Heat team that is really starting to get healthy, the Raptors legitimately competed from start to finish, other than a seven or eight minute span in the third quarter. Like most fans, I’m not usually into moral victories, but seeing this team compete with an elite team on the road because of young building blocks like DeRozan and Davis is better to me than if they had beat the Heat on the backs of guys like Calderon and Barbosa.

***

I’m not naive enough or enough of a homer to believe the Raptors are even in the Heat’s league right now, but I will admit that I am very intrigued to see how the Raps will match up against Miami when the two teams tangle in Toronto on March 30. With a hopefully healthy Bargnani, a raucous Air Canada Centre crowd (which would put the dull Miami crowd to shame) and by then, an improved zone defence, I think the Raps can give the Heat some trouble, and might even be able to come away with an upset W.

Enjoy the game tonight.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 37 Min, 25 Pts, 8-16 FG, 0-1 3PT, 9-11 FT, 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 TO

Heat Player of the Game: LeBron James – 38 Min, 30 Pts, 10-17 FG, 0-1 3PT, 10-12 FT, 9 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 5 TO (The Raptors did end LeBron’s ridiculous streak of consecutive games with at least 15 points, five or more rebounds and five or more assists.)