MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat both had more trouble in the first round than they intended and ended up battling through seven games to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Neither team will have had much time to prepare when the Raptors host the Heat in Game 1 on Tuesday.
Miami looked unstoppable in its first two games against the Charlotte Hornets in the first round before struggling through the next four only to find its form again in a 106-73 shellacking at home in Game 7 on Sunday.
“Every team faces tough times; we know those times are going to come,” said Heat point guard Goran Dragic after the game. “We have so many veteran guys; they just help you find a way when you’re going through tough times. We just had to grow as a team.”
The Raptors don’t need to grow as a team as much as they need to rediscover who they were during a regular season that saw them push the Cleveland Cavaliers into the final week before settling for the No. 2 seed. Toronto nearly squandered all of a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 against Indiana before pulling out an 89-84 triumph and is still waiting for the shots to fall for All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
Miami star Dwyane Wade kept his team alive with a brilliant fourth quarter in Game 6 but everyone stepped up in Game 7 with the season on the line. Dragic scored 25 points in the clincher while Hassan Whiteside, who feels that the strength the team formed in the series will help them the rest of the way in the playoffs, capped a strong series with 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“I really think it gave us better focus going into the second round,” said Whiteside. “I remember how guys felt after we lost Game 5. Guys were down and I told them, ‘Hey, we’re going to go and steal one in Charlotte’.”
Toronto scrapped past the seventh-seeded Pacers despite terrible shooting slumps from Lowry (31.6 percent from the field in the series) and DeRozan (31.9), who both hit key shots down the stretch in Game 7.
“My teammates count on me,” said Lowry. “My teammates love me and they support me, no matter what I do. No matter what happens, they’re always going to be there, and they’re never going to doubt me.”
DeRozan, who was 10-for-32 from the floor in Game 7 but knocked down the free throws at the end that sealed the win and finished 9-of-9 from the line, should be glad to see Miami, against which he averaged 29.3 points on 48.8 percent shooting in four regular season games.
1. The Raptors advanced past for the first round for the first time since 2001.
2. Miami F Luol Deng averaged 19 points on 54.1 percent shooting in the first round.
3. Toronto took three of the four meetings in the regular season.
PREDICTION: Heat 103, Raptors 95
By SportsDirect Inc.