By: Trey Walker
For the first time in the Toronto Raptors 21 year franchise history, “The North” will be headed to the Eastern Conference Finals. I believe that Dwayne Casey’s team deserves this, as they have been bounced in the opening round for the last 2 years.
However, I can’t further my praise for the Raptors without first tipping my hat to the Heat. Dwayne Wade brought his team back after being on the verge of defeat against the Hornets. D-Wade hit crucial shots down the stretch in Game 6 of that series to keep the Heat’s hopes alive and force Game 7. It was definitely a team effort but Wade has stood out this postseason, averaging 21.4 points per game(13th overall in postseason PPG).
This grouping was easily the most evenly-matched series thus far. In 3 out of 7 of the games, a victor had to be determined in overtime. The Heat’s average margin of defeat was only 8 points in 4 losses.
Additionally, the absence of their rim defending big man, Hassan Whiteside due to a strained MCL was a big blow, but the paint wasn’t as vulnerable, for Raptors Center, Jonas Valančiūnas was ruled out with a tweaked ankle in Game 4. All-Star forward Chris Bosh did not play at all in the playoffs and his status to return to play remains uncertain(Bosh was limited to 53 games this season after an early diagnosis with blood clots).
If you are a Heat fan, don’t be discouraged. Your team reached the Conference Semi-Finals this year after losing key elements from the 2013 title team: Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and Chris “Birdman” Anderson. Young wing players like Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow have a bright future in South Beach.
Following the loss, I dug deep into Raleigh’s Heat fan base, and tripped upon a close friend Stephen Holloman. Steve has been a Heatle at heart since his youth, and I asked him about how he felt regarding the Heat’s performance this year amid injuries and roster transactions, and his response was optimistic………
“As a long time Heat fan I feel content with making the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals this season. With Bosh’s situation and Whiteside’s injury that took place, it was hard to expect anything more with this team in the playoffs. It was nice to see vintage D-Wade show out in key moments of some games against Charlotte and Toronto. The offseason will be an interesting one, with Dwayne’s contract and possibly working the cap out to lure KD in to Miami. Or who knows, maybe the King will return to South Beach pending another possible Finals loss…..”
On the other hand, Toronto did an exceptional job changing their gameplay in the absence of Valanciunas. Former Charlotte Bobcat prodigy, Bismack Biyombo stepped up and DOMINATED the glass for the Raps. The Center from the Congo averaged 8.9 rebounds during the series. Offensively, Kyle Lowry became the hot-hand(18.9 PPG in postseason).
Against the Cavs, the Raptors will need all the help they can get offensively, so look for Derozan to chip in too. Valanciunas is out for 2 games at least, per Dwayne Casey this afternoon.
Bottom Line: These two teams were evenly matched, but the Raptors just pulled away and won when advancement was on the line.
Lastly, this Raptors run has been fueled by good play from the players, and outstanding coaching. Good coaching is underrated this time of year, as the star players get most of the spotlight. But wow, one cannot help but appreciate that Toronto has a hidden gem on their coaching staff….