As of now, the only series left standing: The Toronto Raptors with a chance to finish the job, playing against the Miami Heat in game 6. At the end of the rainbow? The Cleveland Cavaliers waiting in the conference finals.
The Raptors took the lead in the series with a 99-91 game 5 win. They managed to let a 20-point lead slip away, and Dwyane Wade made it a one point game with less than two minutes in it. But with both teams missing starters in the same positions, the contributions of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry overcame what Wade and Goran Dragic had to give. Bismack Biyombo showing some surprising offensive skills was another thing the Raptors didn’t expect, and the Heat didn’t see coming.
Right now there’s nobody healthy in this league, totally healthy. here’s something that’s hurting on somebody. Kyle Lowry looks like a boxer, got cuts on both eyelids. This is the time you play through it. This is what you work in the summer for. This is what you prepare your professional career for — playoff time.
Lowry and DeRozan combined to score 59 points in the previous game compared to just 34 by Wade and Dragic. Luol Deng wasn’t a factor and left with a wrist injury, the same DeMarre Carroll had in that game. Both of them will probably play in game 6, but Deng not being able to provide offense is bigger than a Carroll injury. The Raptors, similar to how the Blazers operate, at least now that Valanciunas is out of the picture, live off of what DeRozan and Lowry leave them, and work to put them in a good position to score. That’s about it.
The Heat are about more than that, and A) They’re losing key players, B) They might be getting tired. We mentioned a few times in this series that the minutes logged by Wade, Joe Johnson, Deng and Dragic too (although he isn’t as old) might come back to hurt them in the end. This might be that end, although it’s hard to look at the Heat and Wade as underdogs, facing elimination when they’re playing at home against a Raptors team that has its share of highs and lows in the last month.
The storyline Erik Spoelstra and the Heat are trying to sell is that their players know what this situation is all about, and thrive in these types of situations. That might not be completely true, but it might be what kicks them into the gear they need in order to send this series into game 7. For the Raptors, there’s no need for motivation: This franchise has never been to the conference finals. This is already the longest postseason in Raptors history. They know, more or less, the one or two things they need to do in order to go through. The problem is it doesn’t always work.