As the Toronto Raptors look to make franchise history by advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, they face an opponent in the Miami Heat that has been extra tough in elimination games under head coach Erik Spoelstra.
The Heat have won their last five straight elimination games at home, the longest current streak in the NBA and Spoelstra is 7-1 at home when facing elimination, the second best home elimination record in NBA history playing eight elimination games or more.
It would be hard to call Game Six any better than a coin flip. Through the first five games, three went to overtime and neither team has dominated anything. It’s been a war of attrition where defense has trumped offense and no quarter is given.
In his Thursday media conference call, Spoelstra said Hassan Whiteside will not play Friday and forward Luol Deng is questionable with a bruised left wrist. So, if Deng can go at all, just like the Raptors DeMarre Carroll who also has a bruised wrist, he’ll play.
“You’re just trying to do whatever you have to do to get some kind of advantage,” Spoelstra said. “I told our guys that for them, it’s a privilege to be a part of a series like this, where you really get challenged.”
Dwyane Wade has been the only Heat player who has been able to find any kind of offense on a consistent basis against a smothering Raptors defense and he’ll be expected to carry the load again.
Wade has scored in double-figures against the Raptors 40 consecutive times, tying his longest active double-figure scoring streak against any opponent and he will pass this mark in Game Six. He leads the Heat in scoring this postseason and is shooting a team-high 60 percent (9-15) from three-point range in the playoffs and his nine made threes this postseason already surpass his entire total of seven in the regular season. He has hit seven of those threes in five games against Toronto.
The Heat will be looking for Wade to re-create those back-to-back 30-point games at home of 38 points in Game Three and then 30 points in Game Four to give his team a chance to steal Game Six.
Unfortunately for the Heat, they aren’t just looking to Wade for scoring. The future Hall-of-Fame All-Star guard also leads what’s left of his team in rebounds (6.2 per game) and assists (3.4 per game), so they’ll be looking for someone – anyone – else to step up.
Miami will be counting on veterans Joe Johnson and Goran Dragic. Johnson is 1-17 from three-point range in this series and is only averaging 13.8 points per game against the Raptors. After two 20 point efforts to start the series, Goran Dragic has slumped to 13.3 points per game over the last three games and needs to find his offensive mojo as well.
For Spoelstra’s elimination game luck to hold up, his veterans will have to pull through tonight.
Game Six in Miami marks the eighth time in franchise history the Raptors have had an opportunity to closeout a playoff series. They are 2-5 all-time. The last time Toronto won a playoff series with a road victory was May 4, 2001 in Game Five at New York. They are 1-3 overall in Game Sixes of seven-game series.
It’s been a season of shattering historical bugaboos for the Raptors. They’ll be looking to kick yet another cliche about their team to the curb in Miami.