Heat vs. Raptors Game 7 preview: Three things to watch

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Aesthetically, maybe this wasn’t the series everyone hoped would go seven games, but it has been close throughout. Here are three things to keep an eye on in Game 7.

1) Can Toronto counter the Heat’s small lineup? We know that home teams have won 80 percent of the Game 7s in NBA playoff history, which is a big leg up for Toronto. But if they are going to continue that trend the Raptors need to come up with an answer for the Heat’s small ball lineup that plagued them last game. Rookie Justise Winslow started at center, and Toronto’s Bismack Biyombo could not make him pay a price. What the Heat had with him — along with Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade — were active defenders flying in to block shots and protect the rim as a unit. It worked well enough, and on offense having five wings — with Winslow slipping picks — had the Raptors scrambling in Game 6. The line is simple, the tw0 key lineups with Winslow at center were +7 in 21 minutes. Do that again — and get another strong game from Josh McRoberts — and the Heat will win again.

The logical counter here is Biyombo — the only real center still standing in this series, he has to be a force defensively and get some rebounds and points at the rim on offense. Toronto must make Miami pay for going small.

2) Which team’s role players step up? This is the fun thing about Game 7s — random, unexpected guys come up with the game of their lives. For both of these teams, their chances of winning starts with their star guards: In Game 6 Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 59 points, while Miami’s Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade countered that with 52. If these teams are to have a chance in Game 7, their guards are going to have to lead. But the key to Miami’s Game 6 win was Joe Johnson added 13 points, Justise Winslow 12, and Josh McRoberts 10. No other Raptor broke double digits.

Which team’s role and bench players steps up will be halfway to the win.

3) Can the Raptors handle the pressure of a Game 7? Toronto had to go seven games last round to knock off Indiana, and if you remember that Game 7 the Raptors led from the second quarter on, were up 16 in the fourth, and then got tight and almost choked it away. Toronto has never been to a conference finals as a franchise, this could be history, and with that comes pressure. Will Lowry feel tight and have another off shooting night?  Same for DeRozan? Wade has been on bigger stages, he will bring his best game, and the Heat will come along with him. Can the Raptors handle the pressure?