Heading into game 7 between the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors, the last conference semifinal series still standing, there are a number of previous “truths” a about this series that need to be changed.
The biggest of them has to do with the battle between the backcourts. Both teams rely on their guards to score, Dwyane Wade & Goran Dragic on one side, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry on the other. However, in the game 6, 103-91 win by the Heat, the Heat’s backcourt finished with “only” 52 points. The Raptors got 59 from theirs. It wasn’t enough.
The Raptors got nothing from their support cast. Bismack Biyombo wasn’t the two-way beast he surprisingly was in game 5. Terrence Ross and Corey Joseph finished with 6-for-17 from the field, scoring a combined 13 points. Meanwhile, for Miami, Justise Winslow, Joe Johnson and even Josh McRoberts showed up offensively. For a team leaning hard on players that have very little left in the tank, it was crucial that some other names show up with double figures next to them.
So what’s going to be the difference in game 7? Fatigue plays a part, as both teams are making it to game 14 of their postseason. The Raptors have to be smarter offensively, and not settle for shots. It almost cost them in the series against the Pacers, and while the Heat aren’t as good defensively as Indiana, they’re a much more varied team offensively, not needing one player to do everything for them, which has presented a problem for Toronto.
The Raptors need to get something from Biyombo, or try to outrun the Heat with smaller lineups. The Heat are playing smallball all the time, having no centers besides the injured Hassan Whiteside. They do seem more comfortable in it while the Raptors miss Jonas Valanciunas, but with the energy of home and the age advantage the Raptors have, maybe going small too and trying to make it into a track meet could be an ace up their sleeve.
The Raptors have never been to the conference finals. Dwyane Wade has never been to one without Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James at his side. There isn’t a team feeling more pressure or more relaxed going into this game. As experienced as some of the players on the Heat’s roster are, not everyone are perfectly comfortable in deep playoff runs, or have hardly experienced them.
The last three games have gone to the home team. Both Miami and Toronto won their game 7’s in the previous round at home. It’ll come down to which teams gets a third and fourth player to contribute offensively, while the two guards don’t suddenly suffer from an awful scoring night, which could tilt the entire scale in the wrong direction.