By: J.M. Poulard
After seeing the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers live this season; it only made sense that I watch the Miami Heat in person. So I traveled to Toronto to watch the Raptors host the Heat at the Air Canada Centre in what was sure to be a terrific atmosphere given the fact that the former Raptors franchise player had left the team to join another and was now back in town to play against the organization that first drafted him into the NBA. The cycle is now complete: Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh. Oh, and LeBron James. LeBron James?
The Akron product received just as many if not more boos than Chris Bosh during player intros, while Dwyane Wade was showered with cheers. It was like having Jay-Z, Biggie and Kanye West perform in Chicago (Kanye’s hometown) only to see Jay receive some love from the fans while the other two were greeted with jeers.
Just in case you’re wondering, Wade is Jay, the accomplished star who has been at the mountain top and now routinely bangs out hits plus still serves you with reminders about his greatness, while LeBron is like Biggie in the sense that we keep experiencing things with him that we have never experienced with any star before (The Decision is like the Biggie and Pac beef that actually resulted in both rappers being murdered depending on what story you chose to believe; yes the return to Cleveland was the equivalent of Who Shot Ya) and finally Chris Bosh is like a young Kanye that is still learning to perfect his craft. He has started out by making beats for Jay-Z (Lucifer anyone) and has now reached the point where he is making guest appearances and holding his own on certain tracks. But these guys still have to go out and perform to be successful, and that’s what they did on Wednesday night.
From the get go, there was electricity in the building as the Raptors faithful started off the game by booing Bosh every time he touched the ball. Raptors fans then became a bit more creative as chants of “CB sucks” and “overrated” were heard at different early stages of the game. With that that said, the first quarter was indicative of how the game would be played throughout for both teams: the Raptors got a lot of opportunities at the rim and failed to convert whereas the Heat got just about the same amount of chances and capitalized on them by making their shots at the basket and also getting to the foul line.
The Raptors were 16 for 34 on shots at the rim for the game and shot 20 free throws while the Heat were 20 of 29 on field goal attempts at the basket and manufactured 37 trips to the charity stripe. Dwyane Wade made seven of 11 shots at the basket with at least three of those (by my unofficial count) being dunks against a set defense (Wade even dunked on Jerryd Bayless on play that didn’t count because the screener was whistled for an offensive foul, but it was still a highlight).
In the first half, Miami put the ball in the hands of their stars and asked them to produce the offense. This meant posting up Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade running a few pick and rolls and isolations to shake up loose and score. The strategy was successful as the Heat took a 50-46 halftime lead.
The Raptors on the other hand confused the hell out of me. They ran some sets to get their guards open and/or isolated at the wings, ran some pick and pops with Andrea Bargnani and even posted him up a few times against Chris Bosh. I say they confused me because the Raptors star forward (I know, reading that sounded weird) had 14 points in the first half but it felt as though the coaching staff did a poor job of exploiting his offense. Indeed, Bargs did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted against our version of Kanye West; hence it would have made more sense to force feed him until Miami figured out how to stop him.
The Raptors pretty much played the same way in the second half as they kept attacking the basket but failed to make shots at the rim. Also, they made a few threes to stretch Miami’s defense but were unable to convert midrange shots given the Heat’s ability to close out on intermediate jumpers as evidenced by their nine for 28 shooting from beyond 10 feet and inside the three point line. DeMar DeRozan helped carry the offense for the Raptors as he scored 20 points through three quarters.
The Heat on the other hand switched up their strategy and had their stars play off the ball a bit more in the second half. They ran pick and pop plays for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, had Wade handle the ball as his big men got open off of staggered screens, they also a executed few hand offs with Wade and James, set a few back screens for Wade and had Bosh slip screens. All those plays helped the Heat get points in the paint and draw fouls.
To counter the Heat’s strategy on offense, the Raptors played some zone in the second half but the Heat exploited the zone with some ball movement, crisp passes and ball fakes which then resulted in open lanes to attack the basket. The score at the end of the third quarter was 80-72 in favor of Miami.
If the first three quarters were good, the final one was great. The crowd displayed incredible amounts of passion and did their best to help the home team rally. Dwyane Wade started off the quarter by scoring a few points to keep Miami ahead but that’s also when the Raptors finally realized that Erick Dampier and Chris Bosh looked completely silly in trying to guard Andrea Bargnani. Seriously, not enough can be said about this; Bargs finished the game with 26 shot attempts and probably should have had 35 to 40. The NBA, where freezing your best scorer happens.
After entering the fourth quarter at the 11:15 mark, Italy’s finest proceeded to make six of eight shot attempts (three for three from deep) and two free throws on his way to a 17 point explosion in the final quarter (scored 38 points in total). Toronto seemed on their way to shock Miami for a win until one thing happened: LeBron James.
The Heat’s star forward entered the game with 7:20 left in the fourth quarter and then went on to score 10 of Miami’s last 18 points to put the game away. James willed himself to free throw line, drove to the basket for lay ups and crashed the boards for a put back. In the end, the Raptors made a valiant effort but the 3 Unit overwhelmed them on their way to a road win.
Raptors fans still kept one last chant in the vault for Bosh at the conclusion of the game: “Ru Paul”. Furthermore, the fan sitting behind me came up with a solid question for the former Raptors star: “Hey Bosh, when you need to go to the washroom, do you ask Wade and LeBron for permission?”
And yet, despite all the hostility, all the jokes, posters (someone brought a blow up poster of Delonte West’s head) and crude remarks (one fan actually screamed that they had been intimate with LBJ’s mother except they weren’t as diplomatic in saying so as I just was), it was the Heat’s players that came out on top victorious and that will go into the All-Star break with their heads high.
They might not be able to beat the Boston Celtics currently, but at least they have the Toronto Raptors… for now.