It was obvious from the jump in Miami, the Raptors and the Heat looked like two tired teams in Game Four. This series has been brutal on the players and with both teams coming off grueling seven game first round series with only a day off between games, the wear and tear is showing.
These are two of the slowest paced teams in the NBA, Toronto was 29th at 92.9 and the Heat 25th at 93.6, but in the second round of the playoffs, their coaches have slowed the pace to a mind-numbing 88.3 according to Basketball Reference.
This series has been all about defense. The Raptors running back after every shot and rarely crashing the boards to eliminate fast break point chances. The Heat doing much the same and it’s gotten worse without Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside in the picture. Both team averaged double-digits in fast break points during the regular season, but in the four playoff games, the Heat are averaging 9.3 points and the Raptors 7.5 points. When these teams say they are looking for easy points, it’s because they are going up against a set defense almost every possession.
As much as no player would ever admit to being worn down, it’s a lot harder playing defense than offense and in a series as physical as this, it’s even harder. If you’re still wondering why so many players are leaving shots short on the rim, the obvious answer is their legs are gone.
It’s a lot easier in the regular season. Both teams shot an effective field goal rate of over 50 percent, but in this series, the Heat are at 48.3 and the Raptors 46.6. Toronto averaged 102.7 points per game and the Heat 100 in the regular season. Now it’s 93.5 for Toronto and 94.8 for Miami.
Points are hard to come by and frustration is starting to show. Goran Dragic didn’t take a swing at Cory Joseph in Game Four because he’s happy with his offense. It seems like everyone except Wade is having a tough time scoring.
Joe Johnson, picked up to bolster the Heat offense, shot over 40 percent on three-point attempts for the Heat during the regular season, but he’s 0-13 in this series and he’s not alone.
It’s been easy to pick on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry for their shooting woes, but as Bismack Biyombo tries to tell anyone who’ll listen, this isn’t about shooting. This series and the playoffs are all about defense.
The Raptors are +5.8 points per game with Lowry on the court. Even DeRozan is +1.5 points. They are struggling to score, but their team is ahead with them on the court. Lowry is playing a team high 40.8 minutes per game because they aren’t going to win games in this series without him.
Surprisingly, Dwyane Wade is a -2 points as the Heat’s most effective player has been Luol Deng +4.5 points per game playing a team high 40.7 minutes. The rookie Josh Richardson is +4 in 25.6 minutes off the bench and has earned those unexpected crunch-time minutes from his coach.
Anyone looking for a breakout scoring effort to save their team in this series had better not be holding their breath. The Heat have averaged 92.3 points over the past three games with two of those games going into overtime and Toronto has averaged just 92.7 points.
With coach Casey making statements like, “Our defense hasn’t been atrocious, but it could be better,” the focus of this series isn’t about to change. If the defense gets any tighter, both teams will be struggling to score in the low 80s as those tired legs will make most shooters look like they’ve never been in a gym before.