LeBron James turned it up a notch as the HEAT had to overcome a 9-point deficit midway thru the third quarter to steal a game from the red hot Raptors 102-97. Toronto blew their free throws and missed a couple of excellent chances with less than 30 seconds left or this game could have ended very differently.
The Raptors, shooting over 50 percent from the field, had been red hot from everywhere on the court except the free throw line or even James’ heroics in the fourth quarter might not have been enough. Toronto made 39 buckets while Miami only sunk 38, but the Raptors split their free throws 12-21 and the HEAT stuck 23-27. If the usually reliable free throw shooting Raptors had hit their freebies in the first half, they could have been up by 17 points in the third quarter and James’ big 10 point fourth quarter wouldn’t have been enough.
Even with the poor free throw shooting, Toronto still had their chances to win at the end. Amir Johnson missed a 5-footer in the lane with 24 seconds left that would have given his team the lead and then missed a hook shot 5 seconds later that would have brought the Raptors back to within 1-point. With 14 seconds left, Udonis Haslem blocked Kyle Lowry ‘s layup attempt and 9 seconds later Lowry missed the potential game-tying three-pointer.
The HEAT’s defense in the fourth quarter was tenacious, holding the Raptors to just 13 points. Miami also out rebounded the Raptors 42-34, but Toronto offset some of that damage with 7 blocked shots.
Once again, it was too much James for the Raptors. James scored 62 points in his 2 visits to Toronto in November and piled in 30 more points at American Airlines Arena. Michael Beasley came off the bench as the HEAT’s next most dangerous offensive threat, shooting 7-12 for 17 points. Dwyane Wade had 14 points on 5-13 shooting.
The Raptors were led by DeMar DeRozan with 26 points. Starting big men Jonas Valanciunas and Johnson had 17 points each. Lowry had 14 points and 9 assists, but didn’t get a point in the fourth quarter. The Raptors missed Tyler Hansbrough’s rebounding as he was out with a sprained ankle.
“I like what our guys are building,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey. “I like the direction we are going. We are learning. We are getting there.”
There are no moral victories in professional sports, but there are learning experiences. This young Raptors team needs the lessons learned in a 1-point game with less than a minute left against the current NBA Champion. Toronto has been learning fast since the Rudy Gay trade about how to win as a team. This was a good lesson about what it takes to win games at the next level.