Note: I attended the game in person so you'll get a slightly different perspective. The upper bowl fans were superb as always.
The Miami Heat suffered another crushing loss, this one the likely dagger in their playoff hopes by falling 107-104 to the Toronto Raptors. This game didn't feature a crippling letdown or blown lead, but despite it being a reasonably competitive affair between both teams, (neither team held a lead of more than 8), some of Miami's weaknesses came out in the 4th quarter and it again doomed them.
Dwyane Wade, coming off of one of the worst games of his career against the Chicago Bulls, bounced back with 30 points on 9-20 shooting. Goran Dragic scored 22 and each guard added 5 assists. Dragic, however, did not score in the 4th quarter until a garbage time layup and Wade again opted for hero ball tactics in crunch time, with mixed, rather than disastrous results this time. Unfortunately, he failed to convert what was an open layup (after gaining separation) with 1:40 left and the team down 96-94.
Miami held a lead through most of the three quarters, but had to teeter with a flimsy second unit to start the 4th quarter. Coach Spoelstra opted for a five-man bench unit and despite a rare corner three from Chris "Birdman" Andersen that put Miami up five early in the 4th, this lineup struggled to score or defend. When the regulars reentered, Miami was playing catchup and couldn't generate the stops they needed to close the gap.
Toronto was led by Lou Williams. The streaky combo guard scored 29 on 9-18 shooting and hit the dagger three to put Toronto up by five with 31 seconds left. His jump shot was absolutely dialed in from shootaround and Miami did a poor job of not recognizing the hot hand at times, giving him space to launch threes (4-7). DeMar DeRozen added 24, hitting an array of difficult jumpers and getting to the foul line.
While his shooting splits are subpar on paper (40-34-85), Williams is the type of player Miami seems to lack without Chris Bosh. Firepower, the kind of player who can shoot jumpers with accuracy in a gym-type setting and can sometimes carry it over to a game. Goran Dragic adds a little of that, but his 3-7 showing from beyond-the-arc affirms what we know, that he is dynamite from the top of the key and poor from the corners (there was an airball in the 2nd half). Dragic, of course, remains best attacking the rim.
Luol Deng continues to draw the ire of some in the fanbase and despite a decent showing (11 points, 7 rebounds) his jump shot continues to fail Miami, going 1-7 from the perimeter following an 0-8 showing against Chicago. It's logical to believe his knee issues have had an adverse effect on his jump shooting, but he's getting clean looks that he isn't knocking down and it absolutely cripples Miami's offense. Deng would also miss a key 4th quarter free throw and airball an open three pointer when Miami still had a fighting chance following the aforementioned Williams three.
It took me a while to get to Hassan Whiteside, but watching him he was absolutely dominant in this one. He finished with 16 points, 18 rebounds (8 offensive), and 6 blocked shots while being the chief cause of Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas fouling out in only 10 minutes.
The glaring blemish on his stat sheet though will be his Shaq-like 4-16 foul shooting (including missing his last eight). I'm more than willing to give Hassan a pass here though, as his right hand is still heavily wrapped from his laceration against Milwaukee. Prior to that injury, Hassan was a foul shooter in the high 50s percentage-wise and even had a serviceable midrange jumper. Now, however, he is simply unable to even take a face up jumper, yet his hook shots and put backs have still shown to be reliable enough to get Miami relief points. An offseason of healing and foul shooting practice are naturally in order, and I expect improvement on that end from Hassan.
Miami is facing the reality that they will have an extended vacation for the first time since 2008. For Miami to eek into the postseason, they have to win their last two and Brooklyn, Indiana, and Boston each have to lose their last three games. Nonetheless, they have to suit up Monday to take on the Orlando Magic for the last home game of the season. It remains to be seen who Miami trots out now that their postseason hopes are all but dashed, but tipoff is set for 7:30.