That looked like the Toronto Raptors we thought could be the second best team in the East.
From the opening tip, in front of a fired up crowd, Toronto guards DeMar DeRozan (10 first quarter points) and Kyle Lowry (nine) were making plays, and with that the Raptors offense looked more fluid. Just as importantly, Bismack Biyombo was a force in the paint blocking shots and scoring at the rim, leading the best Raptors defense we have seen this series. The Raptors raced out to a 23-8 lead.
They led by double-digits most of the way, then held off a late Heat run thanks to a Lowry three (you can see the dagger above) and DeRozan getting to the free throw line. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was a lot closer to that than anything else we have seen this series.
Toronto hung on to win 99-91 to take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Miami for Game 6 Friday.
The Raptors got a little tight at the end of this game (Lowry struggled again down the stretch until he hit that dagger three). With the chance to advance to the first conference finals round in franchise history, will the Raptors be tight in Game 6, or have they grown up?
There are a couple of injuries from Game 5 that could impact Game 6. For the Heat, Luol Deng suffered a wrist injury colliding with a cameraman in the first half, and while X-rays were “inconclusive” he did not return to the game and will undergo an MRI Thursday back in Miami. While Deng has struggled in this series, the Heat are already without Hassan Whiteside and can’t afford other injuries to good rebounding big men who can defend.
Then there was DeMarre Carroll‘s wrist injury for Toronto.
Carroll did not return, but X-rays were negative. His status for Game 6 is unknown.
There were a lot of things that went right for Toronto.
That starts with DeRozan, who has been looking for his shot all playoffs and found it from the midrange on Wednesday night — he was still just 3-of-6 inside eight feet (the Biyombo effect) but hit 7-of-15 from the midrange and knocked down the one corner three he took. More importantly, attacking DeRozan got to the line 11 times.
Lowry started hot, went cold, hit a key shot late, but finished with 25 points and hit 4-of-9 from three.
But the biggest game changer, particularly early, was Biyombo. It felt like it was his game early. He was in to protect the rim and take away driving lanes, which he did, but they got the bonus of offense from him at the rim. He had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting on the night.
This was the best the Raptors defense has looked all series, and it was in part because they read the scouting report — they barely covered rookie Justise Winslow and veteran Udonis Haslem, two non-threats on offense that Erik Spoelstra has to play some due to all the injuries. Dwyane Wade had another strong game with 20 points on 14 shots, and rookie Josh Richardson chipped in 13 for Miami.
The Heat showed more poise late to make that run and make things tight at the end again. Toronto ran predictable stuff late, they just hit a few more big shots.
Miami is going to need that championship poise at home on Friday night. Or they will be golfing on Saturday.