Toronto Raptor Kyle Lowry channeled his inner Villanova Wildcat and drilled a half-court heave at the fourth-quarter buzzer to send Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals series to overtime, but the Miami Heat displayed tremendous mental fortitude as they stole home-court advantage and captured a 102-96 win Tuesday night.
According to ESPN.com's J.A. Adande, the Raptors have now lost five consecutive Game 1s at home.
Although Air Canada Centre devolved into a state of pandemonium after Lowry's prayer capped off a 9-3 Toronto run over the final 22 seconds of regulation, the Heat didn't let the postseason's most improbable shot sink their spirits.
The Heat went on a 6-0 run to open overtime, and they held the Raptors scoreless until there were 74 seconds remaining in the extra period.
On the heels of a tremendous Game 7 performance in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers, Goran Dragic was fearless in enemy territory.
Miami's floor general finished with a team-high 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting, and his corner three that put the Heat up five with 40.6 seconds remaining in regulation appeared to represent the dagger before Lowry hit the signature shot of his career.
Dwyane Wade poured in 24 points to go with six rebounds and four assists, and he accounted for seven of Miami's 12 points in the extra frame to keep Toronto at bay once and for all.
Toronto's backcourt, for all of its epic heroics, couldn't match that production.
Lowry—who shot 31.6 percent from the field in Round 1—finished with a season-low seven points on 3-of-13 shooting, and his inefficiencies were particularly glaring when contrasted with the steady stream of buckets Dragic produced, as the Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman noted:
Lowry's nonexistent jumper also forced DeMar DeRozan to try to overcompensate.
As a result, DeRozan finished with 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting in a hot-and-cold volume-shooting display that included several drawn-out isolations in crunch time.
Although the Heat offense stalled for stretches and sloppy play generally reigned supreme throughout the early going, Miami was able to post an early 8-1 edge in offensive rebounds and generate 11 points off eight Toronto turnovers to help stabilize things just a bit and enter halftime down just two points.
The Raptors didn't play a much more aesthetically pleasing brand of ball in the first half by comparison, but they at least had some sustainable sources of offense.
Jonas Valanciunas—who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds—continued to impose his will on the interior with 14 points in 19 first-half minutes, and he benefited from Hassan Whiteside's (nine points, 17 rebounds) brief absence after the Heat center took a scary fall and suffered an apparent knee injury in the first quarter:
Had it not been for Valanciunas and the steady stroke of Terrence Ross (19 points), the Raptors would have been in a bind entering the third quarter. Lowry went scoreless (0-of-4 shooting) in the first half while tallying just one assist, and Toronto was unable to generate second-chance opportunities with the Heat crashing the offensive glass relentlessly.
As SB Nation's Mike Prada explained, the Raptors need Lowry firing on all cylinders in order to have a chance at clinching a spot in the franchise's first-ever Eastern Conference Finals:
Lowry's struggles carried over into the third quarter, though, and Miami's guards started to take advantage.
Wade and Dragic rebounded from shaky starts to pave the way in the third quarter, and a 27-20 scoring advantage allowed Miami to regain the lead entering the game's final frame.
There was nothing pretty about the way Game 1 ended for either side, but Miami can at least exhale knowing it will be heading back to South Beach with the series deadlocked or tilted 2-0 in its favor.
The Heat can also take solace in the fact that Whiteside has plenty of room to improve after he was largely marginalized on offense as a human exclamation point at the rim in the pick-and-roll.
The Raptors, meanwhile, need Lowry to snap out of his funk. Toronto was six points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor during the regular season, per NBA.com's lineup data, but he's failed to resemble the fearless All-Star who led the Raptors to a franchise-record 56 wins.
Head coach Dwane Casey's club proved last round it's capable of scrubbing a poor Game 1 from its collective memory, but doing so against the Heat figures to be more challenging than it was against a more inexperienced Indiana team.
After taking over the game’s final five minutes, Wade spoke to TNT about the Game 1 win, as NBA TV documented on Twitter:
"The overtime I think was the most mental toughness we've shown, coming back from that," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said, according to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg.
As it turns out, such a resilient showing wouldn’t have been possible without some calming words from Chris Bosh, according to the Miami Herald’s Ethan J. Skolnick:
And even though the Raptors dropped another Game 1 on their home floor, they didn’t appear overly discouraged by the slip-up.
"I liked our battle, I liked our fight... We've just got to make plays and execute in certain situations," Casey told reporters, per Lewenberg.
Casey added that Lowry just needs some time and encouragement to snap out of his slump.
"It’s just like a hitter," he said, per CBSSports.com's James Herbert. "Hitters go through slumps. He’s there, but we have to believe in him. We do believe in him."
According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, Lowry put in extra work after the underwhelming performance:
The Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur relayed video of Lowry's solo workout:
"I gotta pick this s--t up," Lowry said after returning from his postgame shooting session, per Herbert.