Game No. 52: Heat 113, Raptors 101

The “Hollywood as Hell” Heat on a Friday night, a sold out Air Canada Centre and a crowd that was just waiting for a reason to explode. The atmosphere was set for a great night of basketball in Toronto, and the undermanned Raptors did their part in trying to deliver.

The Raps were able to undo a horrible start with an improved effort, but ultimately, the talent gap between the two teams took precedence.

Here are some thoughts on the game.

1- This game played out a lot like the Raptors’ home loss to the Lakers in February, where Toronto fell behind a vastly superior team out of the gate, fought back to get back in the game, and then fell apart to take another home defeat. On Friday, the Raptors found themselves down 16-2 within minutes. The Heat never seemed like they wanted to go in for the kill though, and the Raps picked up their intensity level to hang around, cutting the deficit to four after one quarter and eventually sending the game to the fourth quarter tied at 83. I don’t know if the result was ever really in question, but the Raptors gave us reason to believe until the Heat threw one last knockout punch in the final minutes.

2- Another similarity between this game and the loss to the Lakers was the unbalanced officiating down the stretch. Yes, the Heat only took five more free throws than the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan had a game-high 10 free throw attempts, and the teams finished with 16 personal fouls a piece. But if you watched this game, you know which team the refs were siding with in the fourth quarter. The defining moment for me was Dwyane Wade managing to draw a foul on Jose Calderon despite leaning in and smacking Calderon in the face with the ball (Jose was given a tech for arguing), while at the other end, Wade flopped on a phantom elbow from James Johnson and drew an offensive foul. The big three of LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh combined for just two personal fouls in 111 total minutes. This team is already talented enough to win its share of ball games. They don’t need anymore help from the refs.

3- After two visits from the Heat over the last couple of seasons, one thing has become clear, they’re not quite the draw I thought they’d still be in year two. Any time a team has three All Stars and two future Hall of Famers, they’re going be worth watching and a team that brings people to the arena, but in all honesty, did either of Chris Bosh’s two returns to Toronto with his superstar teammates even amount to half of the hype and buzz Vince Carter generated for his first five or six returns to the ACC? Heck, I don’t even think Miami brought the same buzz into Toronto that the Lakers brought this season. I don’t know whether to blame it on the fact that Bosh is just too dry to generate much of a response from fans or to simply blame it on the fact that our attention span and focus on a sports craze is as short as ever. Whatever it is, the Heat hype has seemingly already started to fade.

4- From an individual standpoint, there were a few Raptors performances worth mentioning. Jose Calderon’s 16 assists made it five straight games with 10 or more for the Spaniard and increased his total to 74 assists over seven games since his return to the lineup. DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani were a formidable offensive duo, combining for 55 points on 19-of-34 shooting, but neither did much of anything else on the floor to help the Raptors (though at least DeRozan got to the line 10 times). The most encouraging performance came from Amir Johnson, who put up a double-double of 12 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. With Aaron Gray’s play beginning to slow down, I wonder if another strong showing or two from Amir will get him back into the starting lineup before the season is over.

5- As obnoxious as I find the Heat, I’m not naive enough to ignore the fact that they’re a great team and are obviously very capable of winning an NBA championship this season. Having said that, and despite the abundance of talent they possess between three players, I still don’t think they are the best team in the NBA, or even in the Eastern Conference for that matter. The Bulls and Thunder are the better teams and the more balanced teams, in terms of how their talent is spread out throughout the various positions and the bench. I know LeBron and the Heat turned it on against the Bulls in the East Final last season, but if Derrick Rose is healthy, Chicago can even the score this year.

By the way, did you catch Bosh’s dunk to give the Heat a 12-point lead in the final seconds? More importantly, did you catch Chris get all excited about it and talk smack as if he did something meaningful? It’s because he’s a tough guy, you know, the kind of tough guy that splashes around by himself in a wading pool for the Maxim cameras. I’ve always been a fan of Bosh’s game, but has there ever been a more accurate assessment of him than Kevin Durant’s “fake tough guy” claim?

6- A large portion of the crowd roared when the Raptors eclipsed the 100-point mark (free pizza) in a losing cause again, but on this night, they weren’t even close to being the most disappointing fans in the building. That title goes to the hundreds of “fans” who showed up in Heat jerseys in a feeble attempt to pass as supporters. Give me a friggin break. I used to see a handful of Wade jerseys in the stands when the Raptors would host the Heat in the old days. Now all of a sudden there’s a plethora of Miami fans living 2400 km away in Toronto? It’s bad enough that non deserving “fans” in Miami are trying to play the part of passionate fanatics right now, but to see weak-minded followers in different markets latching on to any bandwagon they think can deliver instant gratification is simply pathetic.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson – 30 Min, 12 Pts, 6-8 FG, 12 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO (As good as Jose was, and as strong an offensive game as DeMar and Andrea had, Amir was probably the most complete Raptor in this game in terms of playing on both ends of the floor)

Heat Player of the Game: Dwyane Wade – 36 Min, 30 Pts, 12-19 FG, 1-2 3PT, 5-7 FT, 6 Reb, 6 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 Blk (Bosh and LeBron were each dominant as well, as the Big Three combined for 86 points)