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Heat fight to finish in tough 96-94 loss to Raptors

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Miami could not ultimately overcome a poor shooting first half and DeRozan’s heroics.

NBA: Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat fought and scrapped their way from a poor start to almost steal a critical road win but were ultimately undone during crunch time in a 96-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 38 points, and the Raptors gave the Heat all they could on their home floor and despite being the better team for most of the night, the scrappy visitors fought back from adversity time and time again. All this despite a first half of poor shooting, Hassan Whiteside’s early foul trouble and several unforced turnovers that led to easy Toronto baskets. Dion Waiters’ continued absence hurts the team for sure, but James Johnson, who led the team with 22 points in his second consecutive start, and Josh Richardson, who played well on both ends of the floor in a valiant effort to contain DeRozan, gave Miami a much-needed boost.

Miami actually started strong from the field but the Raptors would quickly battle back to tie it 12–12. Hassan went to the bench early with foul trouble but Kyle Lowery, who wasn’t much of a factor as he returns to the action following a lengthy injury absence, also would go to the bench with foul trouble with four and a half minutes left in the first quarter. Serge Ibaka also struggled with foul trouble and ultimately fouled out.

Toronto took their first lead at 18-17 and a 12-2 run to end the first quarter gave them a 7-point lead after the Heat went cold immediately after taking a 7-point lead.

A 9-0 Raptors run increased the lead to 39-24 midway through the second quarter. The Heat finally got going with an 8-0 run, highlighted by an Okaro White steal off an inbounds pass and a Rodney McGruder tip-in.

Despite it all, and an incredible performance by DeRozan (25 points, 10-18 FGAs) in the first half, the Heat were only down 10 despite 9 turnovers, Whiteside in foul trouble and going scoreless, and shooting 34.1% in first half.

To pull off the win and keep their playoffs hope alive, the Heat had to turn the game around and an 11-2 run cut the deficit to 67-63 near the end of third quarter. Corey Joseph responded with a 3-pointer but Miami got it down to 5 after being down by 16 points in third quarter.

The fourth quarter continued with both teams making critical plays in a thrilling finish. Richardson played DeRozan aggressively on defense, at times to a fault, but the All-Star was simply better on offense.

The Heat tied it at 82-82 with a Richardson lob to Whiteside and less than five minutes left but once again Toronto responded with an Ibaka 3 and kept the lead even with the visitors scrambling to the very end. Lowry missed two free throws at 92-88 with 30 seconds left but Miami allowed an offensive rebound and with that their last realistic chance of taking the lead.

Two Heat 3-pointers in the final five seconds from Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson made it interesting but it was too little too late. Had the team put in a more consistent effort throughout, they could have kept it close in the standings. Instead it’s now three losses in the last four games, which puts them a full game behind the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers and two games behind #6 Milwaukee Bucks. Only three games remain, two against the Washington Wizards and one against the Cleveland Cavaliers.