The Toronto Raptors are developing a really bad reputation when it comes to the playoffs. Right now, the two things everyone expects from the reigning Atlantic Division champs and No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference is for its All-Star backcourt to struggle to make shots and the club to start each series with a loss and Tuesday night, the Raptors validated those expectations.
Playing in the second round for the first time in 15 years, Toronto dropped the opener of their series with the Miami Heat 102-96 in overtime despite the Heat doing its best to give the game away.
The Raptors rallied from six down with 20 seconds to play in the fourth quarter with Kyle Lowry forcing overtime with a half-court prayer that was answered and sent the Air Canada Centre into hysterics. But Miami came right back and opened the overtime by scoring the first six points, killing any momentum Toronto had built before holding on down the stretch.
As was the case throughout the first round, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continued to struggle from the field, shooting a combined 12-for-35, with Lowry’s lone three-point making being his game-tying heave. Usually the confident catalyst for this team, Lowry is in such a funk that he’s passing up lay-ups and open looks driving the lane and his ice cold touch prompts DeRozan to put up too many contested jumpers trying to make up for his close friend’s shortcomings.
While DeRozan finished with 22 points on 22 shots, Jonas Valanciunas led the way with a monster 24 and 14 double-double, dominating his match-up with Miami defensive ace Hassan Whiteside, who finished with nine points and 17 rebounds. Terrence Ross had his best playoff performance to date on Tuesday, playing 27 minutes and collecting 19 points off the bench, while Goran Dragic paced Miami with 26, two more than veteran Dwyane Wade, who moved into 16th place on the NBA’s playoff scoring list.
What makes their struggles more frustrating is that if one or both of Toronto’s supposed superstars could even have an average night where they approached their production from the regular season, the Raptors would cruise to victory; that was the case against Indiana in the opening round and it was the case on Tuesday night as well. Lowry scored seven points and Toronto was in it until the closing seconds of the extra frame.
After eight playoff games this year and their first-round experiences each of the previous two seasons, it’s time to stop calling Lowry’s struggles and DeRozan’s performance a slump or treating them like an aberration. This has been the norm for these two for the last three years and if the Raptors hope to advance, it has to come to an end in this series.
DeRozan can’t keep putting up Kobe Bryant lines and Lowry needs to get over whatever mental block has turned him from a Top 5 point guard in the league to an unconfident mess. The supporting cast has been solid on most nights throughout this year’s playoffs, but without any consistency and confidence from Lowry and DeRozan, this team are destined to get bounced by the Heat.
And that’s a shame because this Raptors team is really good, even if they’re not playing like it right now. Game Two goes Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre.