The Miami Heat have been lackluster of late and faced tough odds hosting the revamped Toronto Raptors on the second night of back-to-back games. The Raptors are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, winning five straight games and 10 of their last 13.
All the elements were there for a great game. For Miami, it was a chance to show it was ready to handle the surging Atlantic Division leaders. For Toronto, this was a statement game, to say this team cannot be taken lightly and is greatly improved since trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings.
Both teams had something to prove and that they did, giving everyone one hell of a good show.
Miami started Rashard Lewis in the frontcourt as Shane Battier sat out the game. The Heat built an early lead but Toronto highlighted how much they have improved without Gay, showing a quick-cutting and free-flowing offense. The greatest beneficiary for the Raptors is the long-armed swingman DeMar DeRozan, whose feathery jumpshot is helping build momentum to a possible All-Star selection. With the first quarter tied at 29, DeRozan did not disappoint with 10 points, including a buzzer-beating shot at the end of the period. LeBron James also had 10 points in the quarter and a re-energized Udonis Haslem added 4 points in the period as an early substitute for Lewis, who picked up three quick fouls.
Toronto quickly took the lead (31 - 29) at the start of the second quarter, behind Patrick Patterson's fourth basket of the night. Miami's offense was a display of contrasting styles with Dwyane Wade's patient attack of the rim and Michael Beasley's frequent shooting. Trading baskets between the two, they managed to offset DeRozan's hot shooting (18 points in the first half) and the quarter ended with Miami up, 52 - 51.
Miami is well-known for making adjustments at the half and tightening their defensive pressure. Unfortunately, the only adjustment they made was inserting Norris Cole to replace starting guard Mario Chalmers (5 points and 3 fouls in 15 minutes), who was injured in the first half. Toronto kept up their hot shooting getting timely buckets from Kyle Lowly (14 points and 9 assists) and big man Jonas Valanciunas (17 points) whose long arms and sharp elbows kept Heat defenders at bay all night and helped the Raptors build an 8-point lead.
Miami seemed to gain their defensive identity once more and, behind Beasley's determined shooting (7 of 12 for 17 points), tied the game at 77. But Toronto showed why they've managed to recently knock off elite teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers, and Toronto closed the period with a 7 - 2 run.
Out of options at guard, Head Coach Erik Spoelstra inserted Roger Mason, Jr. into the game, a decision that paid immediate dividends as Mason knocked down a 24-footer for his only points of the game. And Chris Bosh (8 points, 2 of 9 shooting), nearly the inverse of his perfect shooting the previous night against Orlando, knocked down only his second shot of the game, as the Heat retook the lead, 86 - 84. Miami would not relinquish the advantage, as James (30 points) shook off some recent rust on his jumper and took over the period.
The closing moments of the game were not without some drama, but Wade (14 points) and James both made clutch free throws and Haslem (6 points), showing the spring in his step that will be a factor in the pursuit of a championship, blocked a Lowry layup with 14 seconds left in the game with the Heat holding on to a 3-point lead.
Toronto (16 - 16) might be a nuisance in the playoffs but for now, the Heat has won all three meetings this season. Miami (26 - 8) next faces the New Orleans Hornets, a game set for 7:30 P.M. at the American Airlines Arena