But Wade ensured his battle-tested Miami Heat had the last laugh in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semifinals collision north of the border.
The three-time champion scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of Miami's 102-96 series-opening win. He also tallied a pair of blocks during the last two minutes of regulation and two steals in the final minute of overtime—the last of which set up his game-sealing and-1 finish with just 1.8 seconds remaining.
"Our defense was great," Wade told TNT's Kristen Ledlow. "Offensively, we got the ball in the guys' hands that we wanted it in. But we won this game on the defensive end of the floor."
It makes sense for Wade to focus on the defense, and not just because he plays for Erik Spoelstra. Even with his late-game surge, Wade wasn't the game's best scorer. That honor went to his backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, who snapped out of a mini-funk to deliver two of his best games of the season, as ESPN's Mark Jones observed:
Dragic opened Miami's first-round series with a 2-of-8 dud and struggled to regain his rhythm. His defense had cracks he couldn't cover, and his offense through six games was mostly quiet and inefficient.
But he broke through with a 25-point gem in Sunday's Game 7 win over the Charlotte Hornets and proved Tuesday that his fiery offense made the long trip up from South Beach. He matched a season-high with 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting, confirming whatever playoff jitters he previously encountered have been properly disposed of.
|Goran Dragic: Miami's Dragon Unleashed|
|First 6 Games||12.3||37.3||31.3||-10|
|Last 2 Outings||25.5||56.8||55.6||+45|
"We are at our best when he's aggressive and making plays for us," Spoelstra said, per Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post.
Dragic also had a hand in making Tuesday another miserable night for Lowry—his incredible clutch shot notwithstanding. The All-Star floor general came so close to being Toronto's badly needed hero.
Prior to that make, he had misfired on all but seven of his first 48 three-point attempts in the playoffs. If that shot spurs the Raptors into action, they could put the ghosts of Game 1s past behind them, protect their home floor and quiet the criticisms that still exist about this core's postseason ability.
And who knows what being the savior in a come-from-behind win could have done for Lowry's psyche? Even with the miracle make, he had just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting, including 1-of-7 from range. In other words, his anemic 31.6 field-goal percentage from the opening round is actually headed down.
"It's just like a hitter. Hitters go through slumps," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said, per CBS Sports' James Herbert. "He's there, but we have to believe in him. We do believe in him."
And, as Herbert noted, Lowry was already working to rediscover his stroke in time for Game 2:
"[I'm] trying to just get the touch back," Lowry said, per TSN Sports' Josh Lewenberg. "I don't know where it's at. It's kind of mind-boggling right now. It's frustrating."
Lowry's right to feel a sense of urgency. The Raptors are all of 48 minutes into the second round and already face a must-win scenario for Thursday's Game 2.
Toronto lost control of home-court advantage during a game in which Miami was far from its best. The Heat entered halftime with 11 turnovers and the same number of field goals from their starting lineup. They blew a 10-point lead over the final 6:31 of the fourth—including a six-point advantage in the last 28 seconds. They finished with five more turnovers (17) than assists (12).
"We didn't play a great game," Wade said, per Lieser. ... "We can play better. We'll take this win. We fought for it, but we can play better."
But Tuesday's win also showcased some of what makes Miami so dangerous.
As the Raptors stumbled and wilted down the stretch, Wade rose to the moment and closed the contest on both ends. When the Heat needed an offensive burst, Dragic showed what kind of energizer he can be in this offense.
Perhaps most importantly, the pair proved they can attack together. Sometimes that meant taking turns, but they also showed they can connect in the clutch.
Miami was also 8-of-11 from beyond the arc. When this team hits jump shots, it's a handful to contend with—no matter the competition.
The Heat can be relentless on defense. Hassan Whiteside led the league in blocks by a mile, and he's made massive strides in the subtleties at that end since the All-Star break. Rookies Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow add length, athleticism and versatility to this defensive unit. And there's a host of veterans with experience-sharpened instincts, which is a major reason why the 34-year-old Wade remains a shot-blocking threat.
Offensively, the Heat can move the scoreboard by speeding things up, slowing the game down or playing anywhere in between. The more they run, the better—especially for Dragic and Luol Deng—but when they have to make something from nothing in the half court, Wade can still work rabbit-out-of-the-hat magic in big moments.
Miami walked away from Tuesday night with nothing more than a one-game lead in a best-of-seven series. But the Heat unveiled the blueprint for how more success could be awaiting this resilient sleeper.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.