MIAMI — The Miami Heat went small, and came up big.
With that, another Game 7 awaits.
Goran Dragic scored a postseason career-high 30 points, Dwyane Wade added 22 and the Heat rode a small lineup to a 103-91 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, tying their Eastern Conference semifinal series 3-3.
“Last year at this time we were all on vacation,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So often in this business people tend to want to search for the easy route. There’s usually not an easy way in a seven-game series, certainly not with a second and third seed going against each other. This is the path … and now we’ve pushed it to a Game 7.”
It comes Sunday in Toronto. The winner will head to Cleveland for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night. Both the Heat and the Raptors won a Game 7 in the first round.
“We came here to try to win the game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We didn’t come here with a seven-game series in mind. It’s been a great series, they’re a championship-caliber team, well-coached team, but we came in here to try to win the game. We didn’t come in here wanting a Game 7.”
“We played all year to get 56 wins and be the No. 2 seed in the East and get home court in this type of situation,” Lowry said. “It’s going to be fun. Game 7, two versus three, get an opportunity to play on one of the biggest stages there is.”
Dragic shot 12 of 21, Wade blocked a game-high three shots and the Heat – despite some serious size deficiencies with injured starting center Hassan Whiteside still out – only lost the rebounding battle 43-41.
“I knew this guy to my left was going to have an amazing performance tonight,” Wade said, sitting alongside Dragic postgame. “You could tell he was on the brink of one.”
Neither team divulged its starting lineup until warmups were under way. The Heat had reason for subterfuge, after choosing a super-small starting five of Dragic, Wade, Johnson, Luol Deng and Winslow.
The results? Splendid.
The Heat used eight players – the tallest being McRoberts, at 6-foot-10. The average height of the others was just under 6-6.
“They made a great adjustment,” DeRozan said. “Give them credit.”
Deng jumped center and Winslow got his first playoff start, three games after sitting out Game 3 entirely. The Heat like using the term “positionless basketball” and Winslow epitomized it early – in a 60-second span, the rookie guarded Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (“that’s what we lift weights for,” Winslow quipped afterward), brought the ball up like a point guard and made a corner 3.
“Justise did an amazing job,” Dragic said.
Whiteside, watching from the locker room, was thrilled.
“The guys played really well,” said Whiteside, who will fly with the Heat to Toronto but said he will not play Sunday. “Goran got in the paint a lot and made it tough on their guys and D-Wade did D-Wade stuff.”
Dragic scored 14 in the second quarter, helping Miami take a 53-44 lead at the half. The lead got to 13 in the third, Dragic again coming up big with a three-point play followed by a jumper. And when Toronto got within six early in the fourth, Dragic and Wade scored the next six points to keep Miami in control.
“I didn’t want to go home to Europe,” Dragic said. “Still want to be here.”
Europe can wait.
Canada comes next.
And then, he hopes, Cleveland.