If LeBron James’ back is a little sore, it’s from carrying his teammates to yet another victory over the Toronto Raptors, this time 93-83. James has averaged 31 points per game against Toronto this season and the HEAT needed all of his generous production once again on Monday night in Miami.
Like in each of the previous games, the Raptors had their opportunities to build a lead, but James has stepped in each time to take it back and in an all too familiar theme, he had a little help from the boys in the grey shirts.
This was a low scoring game where shots were hard to get off by either team and both defenses were very physical, but for some completely unknown reason (sarcasm intended), 15 personal fouls were called on the Raptors to just 6 on Miami in the first half sending the HEAT to the free throw line 15 times to the Raptors 3.
The HEAT had a 54-51 lead at half, but they hadn’t earned it, not even with the exceptional play of James who had 21 points and 6 assists. James made what would be embarrassing screams as he drove to the basket – embarrassing except for the fact the referees rewarded him with highly suspect free throws – you do what you got to do. The physical defense employed by the HEAT apparently didn’t concern the guys with the whistles.
The Raptors had their best success going inside to Jonas Valanciunas and the HEAT got to him early, enticing the young center into two quick personal fouls. Fortunately, Head Coach Dwane Casey got Valanciunas back into the game before the end of the quarter and he put up 10 points and 5 rebounds in the first half.
Patrick Patterson substituted in for Valanciunas, but he also picked up 2 quick personal fouls and he definitely has some rust to work off before he gets back to his old self.
In the first two games this season, Tyler Hansbrough was a solid foil for Chris Andersen inside, however, Casey went to Steve Novak to spread the floor when Patterson came out and Hansbrough was a DNP-CD. It might have been a mistake. Novak did score 13 points on 4 three-pointers, but his defense was soft, his rebounding almost non-existent and the Raptors were beat on the boards 36-30 by the worst rebounding team in the NBA. In this game, those extra possessions given away to have Novak’s shooting were a big factor in the loss.
It’s not an easy call for the Raptors head coach, if he doesn’t have a three-point shooter on the floor, the HEAT will pack the paint and make drives almost impossible, but if the team isn’t going inside, Novak as a decoy for other shooters is a risky move and it cost the Raptors rebounds.
After not getting any calls from the referees in the first half, Toronto became a strictly jump shooting team in the third quarter and a not very good one at that. Part of the problem was undoubtedly Kyle Lowry’s attempt to play on a sore knee after bumping it in a collision with James in the first half. He definitely wasn’t playing like himself. Lowry left the game part way through the third quarter as his knee became swollen.
“(Lowry) bumped knees and it puffed up a little bit so he couldn’t go,” Casey explained. “The x-rays were negative, so we will just have to wait and see how he is tomorrow.
“We pulled him out. He couldn’t go. He was limping, limping, limping and they looked at it and decided he couldn’t go back in. It was puffed up pretty good.”
Greivis Vasquez filled in admirably for Lowry and as Vasquez likes to say, ‘I am not afraid.’ Vasquez headed straight into the paint, shot 5-8 for 14 points over the next 15 minutes and wasn’t deterred just because Andersen had blocked a couple of his layup attempts. Behind Vasquez, the Raptors second unit closed the gap to 3 points in the fourth quarter with James on the bench, but they couldn’t keep their momentum after James returned to the game.
Vasquez scored 17 points in 23 minutes to lead the Raptors. DeMar DeRozan had a quiet 16 points and 7 assists. Valanciunas had 14 points and 10 boards, but he barely saw the ball after the half.
James had 32 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists. Chris Bosh had 18 points and Anderson 13 points.
Toronto shot 50 percent from the field and got to the free throw line 10 times. The HEAT shot 51.5 percent and had 22 free throw attempts. Personal fouls ended up at 25 Toronto and 14 Miami. It’s not that hard to figure out how this game was really won and lost.
The Raptors return home to face the Rockets on Wednesday and will be hoping Lowry is good to go versus his old team.
Miami plays the Bucks on Wednesday. The HEAT moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with the win.
Every Playoff Spot In The NBA East Is Up For Grabs
The home stretch for playoff seeding in the NBA Eastern Conference kicks off this week in a big way as no team knows where they will end up and only the top 4 teams have guaranteed themselves a spot in the postseason so far. First place is still up for grabs and thanks to the Hawks run of 6-20, both the Knicks and the Cavaliers are now eyeing the eighth and final playoff spot in the East as attainable over the last 2 weeks of the regular season.