Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
Fresh off the Christmas Holiday where the Toronto Raptors were snubbed a Christmas Day game yet again. the team celebrated their holiday in South, Florida where they would take on the Heat in Miami on Boxing Day.
Going into Wednesday night’s match-up, the Raptors would have back the likes of Serge Ibaka and Danny Green - who missed the past two previous games before the Christmas break due to injuries. Although, Toronto would be without Kyle Lowry once again when it was reported that Lowry wouldn’t be in the lineup due to reaggrevating his lower back and wasn’t cleared to play. With Lowry out, this meant Toronto has now played two weeks of games – a seven game stretch – where they haven’t played a game with their regular starting lineup of Lowry, Green, Leonard, Siakam and Ibaka. All five of which have missed time over that span of games.
Fred VanVleet started at the point guard position due to Lowry’s absence as the four other positions were filled by the aforementioned regulars. The Raptors got off to a horrible start in Miami, looking sloppy and discombobulated at times. It just wasn’t the 25-10 Raptors many knew and watched night in and out. There were also early signs of Heat center Hassan Whiteside who looked to be a problem all night without the presence of Jonas Valanciunas to match his size and strength at the 5. Miami went on to take the first quarter 31-23.
Toronto had a little spark of offensive to start the 2nd quarter, going on a 10-3 run to only trail the Heat by 1 only four minutes into the quarter. After a great timeout called by Miami, Toronto’s offensive came to a halt and Miami went on a run again and ended up leading Toronto 58-44 at halftime. A very frustrating half for Toronto only meant better things were to come in the 2nd half with 24 minutes of basketball left to be played.
The third quarter was all Toronto. After a physical play at the rim where Whiteside caught a knee to the hip, he was forced to leave the game for some time which deemed to be a huge difference maker in what mounted this Toronto comeback. At the 6:46 mark in the 3rd quarter, and Whiteside on the bench with Toronto down 13, they quickly turned the game around. Fred VanVleet put up 11 points in the quarter along with making three 3-pointers, helping Toronto put on a 25-10 run from the time Whiteside was subbed out at the 6:46 mark all the way to the end of the quarter.
That massive run from Toronto all of sudden gave the Raptors’ team life. After a horrible first half, all it took was 12 minutes for Toronto to have a shot at a win. Leading the Heat by two to start the 4th quarter meant Toronto had all the momentum after that huge run. Although, it wasn’t long until Whiteside was subbed back in for Miami at the eight-minute mark in the final frame where the game was tied at 86. It stayed close until the very end. Yet, at the 2:27 mark, Miami extended their lead to six; a two-possession game. However, a clutch three-point shot from VanVleet and strong And-1 from Siakam saw that six-point Heat lead erased and both teams were deadlocked at 99.
The Heat responded with their own clutch defensive possessions and shots until the very end. On the last Raptors’ possession where Toronto was down two with 30 seconds to go, Miami was doing everything right to protect their slim two-point lead. That is, until, they left Danny – Ranger – Green wide open in the corner as he nailed the go ahead three-point shot. As a result, Miami was now down two with 22 seconds to go with the final possession, and they were going for the win. As the ball was in the hands of veteran and future Hall of Famer, Dwayne Wade to try and win the game, his shot was just off. As was a Justice Winslow three-point shot after an offensive rebound and final tip-in effort from Wade was also missed. Just like that, Toronto escaped.
Toronto found a way to battle back after their comeback in the 3rd quarter. It was a short-staffed roster for Head Coach Nick Nurse, who only played four players off the bench, - Delon Wright, Greg Monroe, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby. Those four combined for 26 points, while Leonard had 30, Green with 18 and VanVleet with 16. It’s also worth noting that CJ Miles did not see any action in that game due to his struggles all season long. He doesn’t have much time to find his mojo again, as it seems Powell has taken back his rightful role off the bench.
With Toronto escaping Miami on a Boxing Day thriller, they now look forward to Friday night in Orlando as they take on the Magic. Last time Toronto was in Orlando, they won at the buzzer courtesy of Danny Green.
Happy Holidays, Toronto!
Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)