Raptors win an ugly basketball game

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images   Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images /

The NBA playoffs are here. The games are tighter, the lights are brighter, and the narratives are getting thick. It can be a lot to keep up with but don’t worry we’re here to help. Throughout the NBA postseason, FanSided will be gathering together some of the most talented writers from our network for a daily recap of our favorite stories from the night before.

Welcome to the Rotation.

U-G-L-Y, Raptors and Heat ain’t got no alibi

Ian Levy | @HickoryHigh | FanSided

Last night, the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat began their pre-game preparations by climbing aboard respective time machines and transporting themselves back to the 2003-04 season. From there, they set about slogging through a muddy, physical game that befit the era. This was basketball, sure, but not the kind we’re accustomed to seeing these days.

Through the first two games of this series, now tied 1-1 after Toronto’s overtime win, the Raptors and Heat are averaging 92.3 and 95.1 points per 100 possessions, respectively. Both marks would have ranked dead last in the league during the regular season. The Raptors and Heat have combined for 59 assists and 62 turnovers. Together, the two teams have recorded an assist on just 37.3 percent of their made baskets. During the regular season, no team recorded an assist on less than 51.1 percent of their made baskets (coincidentally that was Toronto).

Both teams use offensive frameworks that forgo ball movement and player movement, relying on the individual scoring talents of their stars to create offense in isolations, post-ups, and as ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll. Squaring off against each other seems to have both teams leaning into the worst habits and outcomes their systems can provide. Kyle Lowry is still working on the worst shooting effort in playoff history. Both he and DeMar DeRozan have a true shooting percentage below 50 percent for the series. Ditto for Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson on the other side.

In Game 1, the key for Miami was Wade’s ability to create for himself off the dribble down the stretch. In Game 2, Jonas Valanciunas’ muscle inside, was what gave Toronto the edge. These a throwback qualities — the isolation wing scorer, the punishing interior big — and this is what basketball looked like a decade ago. That is not to say what they are doing can’t be effective, Toronto won 56 games this season relying on this formula and both teams won their way into the second round over teams that, ostensibly, played a more modern style. Still, overlapping these two time travelers makes for some ugly basketball.

DeMarre Carroll Isn’t Scared

Adam McGee | @AdamMcGee11 | Behind The Buck Pass

After the Toronto Raptors fell short in Game 1 of their second round series against the Miami Heat, the team’s struggling star, Kyle Lowry, was delivered some hard truths by one of his teammates. DeMarre Carroll has had his own struggles since arriving in Canada as a free agent last summer, but he pulled no punches in addressing Lowry and his struggles.

“You can (offer encouragement), but you know, sometimes you just have to look yourself in the mirror. You have to man up. You have to be like, ‘I’m the Kyle Lowry that played the 82 games, All-Star.”

Having overcome countless obstacles of his own to arrive at this point, the “Junkyard Dog” doesn’t deal in excuses. When you observe the energy that Carroll applies himself with on the court, you’d never know that he’s playing with liver disease and will likely require a life saving transplant after his playing days are done. Nor would you know that it could all have been over before it began for him after he was shot in the ankle during his time in college. That’s not to mention tragedies in his family and his battles to prove himself as a pro.

A product of what’s gone before him, poor form and any rust still remaining from a knee injury that sidelined him for the bulk of the season weren’t going to get the best of the Missouri native indefinitely.

Toronto’s opening few possessions of Game 2 looked far from confident, but forcing Miami into mistakes allowed them to settle. The Heat turned the ball over 11 times in the first quarter alone, with Carroll’s high octane brand of defense directly contributing to two steals of his own, while also planting a seed of doubt in the heads of Miami’s players.

This was a throwback to the brand of defense that earned Carroll his contract. This was the player who was arguably Atlanta’s best player during their playoff run last season too. Carroll provided more than just defense on the Hawks journey to the Conference Finals as he shot 40.3 percent on 4.5 three-point attempts per game.

The 29-year-old went even better than that on this occasion, knocking down 3-of-6 attempts from deep as part of a 7-13 shooting night overall. A final stat line of 21 points, 5 rebounds and 4 big steals was the perfect remedy for the Raptors. They might have benefited from clutch shots from high profile names late in the day, but without Carroll they may not even have been in position to capitalize. With DeMar DeRozan and Lowry showing little consistency of late, that’s the sort of output that Toronto needed from Carroll in this game, and that need will only grow even greater as the series shifts to South Beach.

The Raptors have no shortage of players who can win games by putting the ball in the basket, but what they often lack is players who can make a decisive impact in areas aside from scoring. Carroll had more than his share of points on Thursday night, but his physical defense on Joe Johnson in the fourth quarter and overtime was just as important to the team as the points from his teammates in that stretch.

After all he’s been through, the spotlight means nothing to the Junkyard Dog. He was never going to be afraid of the Playoffs. Adversity is where he thrives. Prior to the start of the season, Carroll told the Toronto Star, “I want people to understand my story, understand what it took for me to get here.”

It’s been a long, tough road, but for now the Raptors can just be glad that he got there.

It’s just one game

Nathan Heck | @NathanHeck22 | Pelican Debrief

On Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors won a contest they absolutely needed to in order avoid falling behind by two games to the Miami Heat. Toronto put distance between themselves and the Heat early in the game, but the Heat closed the gap in the third quarter. Jonas Valanciunas prevented the Heat from putting the Raptors away with his immense intensity down the stretch, and the Raptors ultimately closed the game out in overtime.

Throughout the game, the Raptors wore their hearts on their sleeves; players were both visibly frustrated and elated. When things were going well, they were going really well for the Raptors, like their 17-5 run in the first quarter and the outburst by Valanciunas as regulation drew to a close. The Raptors were prone to extremely rough stretches, though, such as when the porous defense allowed Joe Johnson to score nine consecutive points for the Heat. On the other hand (and bench), the veterans that populate the Miami roster were remarkably stoic and steady.

Regardless of the situation, the Heat seemed to be firmly rooted in reality. Runs by Toronto seemed to not phase the Heat in the least, and even in defeat, the Miami cadre of veterans and youngsters still seemed remarkably calm. The usual look of defeat that finds its home on the collective face of a losing playoff club was nowhere to be found. It should come as no surprise, either. It was, after all, just one game.

As a collective group, the Miami Heat have been down this road before. After making their way around the figurative block more than their fair share of times, the Heat are well aware of the fact that series are not decided in a solitary game. They’ve led before, they’ve trailed before and they’ve been tied up before. At this point, the playoffs and the mental battles a series represents are becoming a tired dance for many of the Miami Heat contributors. When all of their career totals are tallied together, the players who appeared in Game 2 for Miami have played in an absurd 598 playoff games. It is safe to say they’ve learned a thing or two about the dynamics of a series.

A semifinals matchup tied at one and one is not the end of the world, and even the youngsters know that, not just the guys a bit longer in the tooth. Under the guidance of Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudamire, Udonis Haslem and the larger than life sideline presence of Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside demonstrated a relatively high level of composure for inexperienced players, an impressive feat when taking into account the large stage. In fact, all three of them seemed to have a tighter handle on the situation than the All-Star Toronto backcourt.

Now, Miami will drag the Raptors from the far northern reaches of the NBA landscape to its southernmost point, and it is hard to say the Heat aren’t firmly in control of the series as the planes descend over the expansive Everglades. After stealing a game in Jurassic Park, the Heat have the opportunity to bury Toronto by a two game margin if they can defend their homecourt, something a team with such a wealth of experience will surely aim to do. Toronto may have all of the passion in the world, but passion only wins a game; experience and professionalism wins a series.