Developing a defense-first identity was an easy sell for the first five games of this Toronto Raptors’ (5-2) season as the club also managed to top the 100-point plateau each game, but buying in seems less appealing today after they managed just 163 points across two weekend losses in Florida. After dropping their first loss of the season in Orlando on Friday, the DeMarre Carroll-less Raps fell apart in the second half along the way to a one-sided 96-76 loss to the Miami Heat.
A plantar fasciitis injury kept Carroll out of the lineup on Sunday and could leave him on the sidelines for some time to come (James Johnson took his spot in the starting five in Miami), which would be a significant concern considering how much their offense has flowed through their new small forward so far this season. Without the former Atlanta Hawk, Toronto was back to their ball-stopping ways of late last season, particularly in a 29-point second half in which they seemed to check out. After entering the break with a three-point lead, the visitors crumbed to 21.9% (7-32) shooting and 11 turnovers in a 52-29 second half for the Heat.
A second straight game of sub-40% shooting from the Raptors shed some light on a few players who aren’t currently at their premium level of efficiency. Terrence Ross went a scoreless 0-4 in 20 hapless minutes, lowering his season averages to 36.4% from the floor and 28% from three-point range. Patrick Patterson, meanwhile, continued to look lost within the new rotation, scoring two points on 1-4 shooting to bring his shooting percentage down to 34.9% while actually elevating his points per game. Finally, Kyle Lowry finished with a game-worst plus/minus of -16 after missing 12 of his 16 shots and dropping to 40.4% shooting on the year.
The Raps made life pretty easy on the host Heat, who were anchored by the front court duo of Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. Bosh led all players with 23 points on 8-14 shooting, including 4-7 from deep, and added eight rebounds while bringing his record against his former club to 12-0. Fellow Heat big man Whiteside was an interior force, picking up 20 points on 8-15 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking six shots.
Lucas Nogueira made his season debut on Sunday, swiping an errant Mario Chalmers pass and finishing a hoop-and-harm three-point play on the other end. Yes, I realize that I’m really reaching on this one.
As we saw last year, the Raptors have been known to resort to some undisciplined chucking when things aren’t going their way, something they could get away with on occasion with Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez in tow last season but will be hard-pressed to do this year. On Sunday, as desperation set in on a game that was quickly slipping out of their grasp, the Raps went a little three-crazy, a decision that only served to dig them a deeper hole. They made just 3-19 three-pointers on the night, missing all nine attempts in the second half and allowing the Heat to score 14 points off of those misses from deep.
For a team that has held an edge on the boards in each of their first six games, you’d think that a game in which they miss 43 times from the field would represent an opportunity to rack up some rebounds. But that presence was lacking as well against Miami, with no Raptor managing to grab more than seven rebounds as the Bosh/Whiteside tandem combined for 19. Over all, the Heat out-rebounded the Raps 48-38, earned a 44-38 edge in points in the paint and were even the more productive team on the offensive glass, gaining a 13-7 advantage.
Dwane Casey couldn’t capitalize on a chance to move above .500 over his Raptors’ coaching tenure. Instead, the loss dropped Casey back to 159-160 in his time with the club.
The Heat lost a good chunk of their championship swagger when LeBron James went back to Cleveland, but all is not doom and gloom in South Beach – okay, maybe it never is, but I’m referring specifically to the city’s basketball team. Bosh is healthy and productive. Dwyane Wade continues to lead the team in scoring with enough depth around him to pace himself over the regular season grind. Beyond two of the former Big Three, Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow represent not only a roster that has become younger and more balanced, but also how things seem to break right for Pat Riley’s guys. Whiteside blew up on his third NBA team after agreeing to a low-risk contract in late 2014, Dragic was added for little more than Norris Cole and a pair of far-off, protected first-round picks and Winslow fell into their laps after dropping to the Heat at No. 10 in this year’s draft.
Toronto gets their first look at rookie Kristaps Porzingis when the New York Knicks come to town on Tuesday night (7:30pm, SN1) in a battle between the top two teams in the Atlantic.
Prediction: Raps 95, Knicks 90 (record this season: 3-3)