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Heat squander 17-point lead against Raptors, highlighting team’s most glaring need

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Miami’s win streak is over after a frustrating end to what could have been a huge statement game.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

After blowing a 17-point third quarter lead to the Toronto Raptors, the Miami Heat’s win streak is now no longer. The collapse is the latest evidence of the Heat’s glaring issue of not having a dependable go-to scorer when needed.

Coming into Wednesday night’s game against the Raptors, the Heat were riding a five-game win streak and faced a test of their growth as they attempted to avenge a 10-point loss in Toronto back on November 25.

The Heat came out firing in the first quarter, going up by as much as 13 points. The Raptors were without Jonas Valancunias, leaving Serge Ibaka on Hassan Whiteside, and Whiteside quickly took advantage of the opportunity, dominating both offensively and defensively. At the end of the first quarter, the Heat led the Raptors 31-23.

In the second quarter, the Raptors were able to get the score within one point after a nine-foot jump shot by Delon Wright brought the score to 34-33. Erik Spoelstra quickly called a timeout and brought Whiteside back into the game. Shortly after, with the score at 42-38, the Heat scored 11 unanswered points and eventually went into the locker room at halftime with a 58-44 lead. Whiteside finished the half with a double-double, scoring 12 points and bringing in 10 rebounds while also adding three blocks.

In the third quarter, the Heat went up 67-50 with 8:16 remaining but it was all downhill from there. The Raptors went on a 22-5 run going through the early portion of the fourth quarter and were able to gain the lead. Down the stretch, the Heat and Raptors traded leads before a Danny Green three-pointer put the Raptors up for good. On the final possession, Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow had multiple opportunities to score but failed to do so.

Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 30 points and eight rebounds, and Green finished with 18 points, including four three-pointers. For the Heat, Justise Winslow finished with 21 points and four assists, Josh Richardson had 17 points and seven assists, and Whiteside ended with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The Heat looked as if they made a jump from their previous loss against the Raptors, but the Raptors had something the Heat didn’t: a go-to scorer (Kawhi Leonard).

In the final 23 minutes of the game, Leonard had 17 of his 30 points and largely took over on both sides of the ball.

When the Raptors went into their 2-3 zone midway through the third quarter, nearly all of the Heat’s scoring disappeared with no one stepping up to fight off the Raptors, while Leonard on the other hand was leading the charge in the comeback.

This isn’t the first time the Heat have blown a large third quarter lead either, which is a testament to how dire this need truly is. Richardson and Winslow have each made their steps, and having Goran Dragic out doesn’t help, but none of the three have been able to be a leader offensively at all times.

The Heat have pursued players who could fill that role, most notably Jimmy Butler, but their failure to acquire such a talent has ultimately capped the team’s growth. In the Heat’s five game win streak, they have managed to get by with fairly balanced scoring, but that doesn’t suffice against a top-tier team such as the Raptors.

The top of the Eastern Conference is filled with some of the premiere scorers in the NBA, including Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving. In order for the Heat to compete with their respective teams, they will need someone who can handle the reigns offensively and match what is being produced on the other side of them.

The Heat’s ability to fight back despite blowing such a large lead is encouraging, however the fact that a lead of that size was blown in the first place is troubling.

Dion Waiters is still working his way back despite being cleared for full contact in practice, but even he doesn’t provide the consistency that is needed in order to take the Heat to the next level.

The Heat next play against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Miami on Friday and it will be a nice opportunity for the team to bounce back against the team with the worst record in the conference. Though no notable changes will be made ahead of that game, how the team comes out will be telling about how they are able to respond after such a letdown.