Facing a seven point deficit with a little more than six minutes left in regulation, the Toronto Raptors’ season was essentially on life support.
Fortunately for the home team, it found new life in the form of Jonas Valanciunas. His strong performance in the fourth quarter sparked a late comeback for Toronto to get them into overtime, where the Raptors would eventually win and even the series at 1-1.
Early, it looked like the Raptors might finally get some much-needed offense from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Both had been much maligned coming into Game 2, having struggled mightily throughout the series. In the first quarter, however, Lowry and DeRozan combined for 13 points and four assists, fueling the Raptors to a 10 point lead after one quarter.
Perhaps more impressive than the Raptors’ offensive output was how much trouble they gave the Miami Heat with their aggressive defense. The Raptors forced 11 first quarter turnovers, including seven live ball turnovers. Toronto consistently jumped into passing lanes and forced ball-handling mistakes with their quick hands, and it resulted in Miami turning the ball over on 48 percent of their first quarter possessions.
The biggest beneficiary of Miami’s 11 turnovers were Lowry and DeRozan. The Raptors’ two All-Star guards were able to get out in transition instead of having to create in the half court. The transition offense made things a lot easier for Lowry and DeRozan, giving them open space and a paint area, where Hassan Whiteside wasn’t always waiting to block their shots.
After the first quarter, the Heat tightened up their passing and ball-handling and Lowry and DeRozan went on to struggle without consistent transition opportunities, shooting a combined 16-for-46 in the game. As the Heat took better care of the ball, they slowly chipped away at the Raptors’ lead, eventually building a fourth quarter lead of their own.
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The Heat slowed down the pace and used Toronto’s aggressive switching defense to their advantage: consistently using guard/wing screen combinations to get favorable match-ups along the perimeter. Goran Dragic, as the primary ball-handler, benefited most from Toronto’s switching. Dragic consistently got to where he wanted to on the court with slower defenders on him and converted the opportunities, shooting 8-of-12 from the field for 20 points.
Outside of Dragic, the Heat were fairly unremarkable offensively. Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson each contributed with 17 points on below-average efficiency, and Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside scored a combined 25 points on 23 possessions. Defensively, the Heat took advantage of the shooting woes of Lowry and DeRozan by packing the paint and forcing them into a bunch of lower-percentage shots off isolation action.
With Lowry’s and DeRozan’s struggles spilling into Game 2, the Raptors turned to an unlikely source for some offense. Terrence Ross, coming off the bench, was one of the few Raptors who could create any space in the second and third quarters of the game. Ross took advantage of the Heat going over screens and showed off some ball-handling ability to create space for in-rhythm jumpers:
Ultimately, though, the Raptors couldn’t find enough offense in the half court during the middle of Game 2. Their guards and wings continually failed to create space and open looks until Jonas Valanciunas got going.
Valanciunas often took advantage of Whiteside’s man-to-man defensive deficiencies, namely Whiteside’s desire to block every shot possible.
In the first half, Valanciunas used a standard pump fake to get Whiteside to bite and then stepped through for an easy layup, on what probably should have been an “and one.”
Had the Raptors gone to Valanciunas more consistently throughout the game, they may have had an easier path. But Valanciunas attempted just nine shots (making seven of them) in the entire game. The Raptors’ refusal to feed him the ball in the post caused Valanciunas to become more aggressive on the offensive boards, and create his own scoring opportunities.
With just three a half minutes left in the game, Valanciunas again took advantage of Whiteside’s wandering defense, this time to get position under the basket, grabbing the offensive rebound with one hand and making the put-back to bring the Raptors within two points.
Following that Valanciunas basket, the Raptors tied the game on a Terrence Ross jumper. One possession later, DeMar DeRozan drew a shooting foul and stepped to the line. On most nights, that would seem like an automatic two points. But, tonight, DeRozan’s shooting struggled spilled over to the free throw line, shooting just 2-for-8 from the charity stripe. True to tonight’s form, DeRozan missed both free throws with the game tied. But, Valanciunas again took matters into his own hands, making an aggressive play to get position and tip in DeRozan’s missed free throw to take the lead:
Kyle Lowry proceeded to extend the Raptors’ late lead with a couple made baskets, but Miami wasn’t done. Dwyane Wade hit yet another clutch 3 to keep Miami in the game. And then DeMarre Carroll made a fatal mistake with 15 seconds left.
Erik Spoelstra appeared to draw up a three-pointer for Joe Johnson off a high screen, but Carroll inexplicably left Dragic, the screen man, wide open and Johnson saw it. Dragic took full advantage of being so open and sent the game into overtime.
The Game 2 overtime played out almost the exact opposite as the extra period did in Game 1. The Raptors took an early lead, the Heat looked exhausted, and the Raptors never looked back. In overtime, the Raptors finally made an effort to get the ball to their best player in the playoffs thus far:
Again, Valanciunas took advantage of Whiteside cheating in help defense. With Whiteside slagging off into the paint, Valanciunas spotted up and nailed a 15 foot in-rhythm jumper. Valanciunas’ jumper gave the Raptors a two possession lead which they would not surrender.
Valanciunas’ jumper may just be one possession in a 53 minute game, but it again showed how he is capable of taking advantage of Whiteside’s defensive deficiencies. And, if the Raptors can begin to get the ball to Valanciunas in positions that take advantage of Whiteside’s aggressiveness, Valanciunas’ effect on the series could be much greater than just helping Toronto to avoid getting beaten in consecutive home games.