It’s been more than five years since the Chris Bosh era ended for the Toronto Raptors (17-11), who have since rebounded from an ugly immediate aftermath (45 wins over their first two Bosh-less seasons) with two consecutive Atlantic division titles. While they’ve exorcised most of the one-time CB4 demons, the Raps had never actually defeated their former franchise star – until now. After 12 losses to the club’s all-time leading scorer since he joined the Miami Heat (Toronto actually beat the Heat twice last season, but both victories came after scary blood clots in his lungs cut his 2014-15 season short), the Raps finally beat Bosh and his Miami teammates 108-94 on Friday night.
It didn’t always look like things would go the Raptors’ way, though. The Heat came out of the break by making their first four shots and pushing their lead up to 11 points. Similar to their 20-point loss at American Airlines Arena earlier this season, Toronto looked fatigued and lethargic while Miami seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy. That momentum quickly shifted again, as the visitors made five straight shots as part of a 17-2 run that catapulted them to a 56-30 scoring advantage the rest of the way.
DeMar DeRozan bested Dwyane Wade in the battle of the star two-guards, with DeRozan finishing with 30 points on 10-17 shooting to Wade’s 21 points on 8-16 shooting. DeRozan’s efficiency helped set the table for a 51.2% (41-80) field goal percentage for the team, spurred on by their 72% (13-18) shooting effort in the third quarter to pull away. Outside of their red hot shooting guard, the Raps got production from Luis Scola (20 points on 9-16 shooting), Bismack Biyombo (15 rebounds) and even Terrence Ross (17 points on just nine shots for his second straight solid showing). For Miami, Gerald Green came off the bench to score 20 points on 7-15 shooting.
It was a strange bit of timing that Dwane Casey opted to shuffle the small forward spot on Friday in light of DeMarre Carroll’s continued absence. Presented with numerous opportunities to yank Ross out of the starting five after a poor showing, the coach instead chose to go with James Johnson after the struggling Ross put up 17 points in Charlotte. The switch at the three still worked, though, as Johnson brought forth a season-high 13 points on 5-9 shooting while Ross matched his 17 points from one night earlier off the bench, albeit on three fewer shots (6-9).
For the second straight night, Toronto managed to protect the ball while goading their opponent into some sloppy turnovers, forcing 13 from the Heat to just seven of their own. Kyle Lowry collected four steals while Wade gave up a whopping eight turnovers, with the Raps scoring 18 points off of Miami cough ups. As a Raptors fan, it may seem that turnovers have been a concern at times this season, but the team actually ranks sixth league-wide in fewest turnovers allowed and fifth in steals.
Youth being served
The subtle sub-narrative of the Raptors’ off-season was Masai Ujiri’s savvy pursuit of young, low-risk contributors who would have the chance to grow into greater components of the overall franchise plan. 24-year-old Cory Joseph signed on for four years after feeling the cap pinch in San Antonio, 23-year-old Biyombo had been cast aside in Charlotte but still offered big time rim protection and 22-year-old Anthony Bennett couldn’t find regular NBA work two years after being the first over-all pick. They joined Brazilians Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira as part of the club’s next wave of emerging talent. Now, Caboclo is in the D-League, Nogueira is struggling to regain a spot in the rotation after injury, Joseph has seen his production dip after a promising start and Bennett is offering essentially nothing. Only Biyombo has offered consistent production out of a regular role lately among the new guard.
You might say that the only thing better than a win for Jesse Mermuys and his Raptors 905 is a win that features a big-time Bruno performance. Not only did the club topple the Pistons-affiliated Grand Rapids Drive 100-86 on Wednesday night, but they did so on the strength of Caboclo’s 18 points on 7-13 shooting, six rebounds, four assists and game-high +20. He was joined by leading scorer Ronald Roberts (21 points on 9-11 shooting, seven rebounds) and Delon Wright (12 points on 4-7, seven assists).
Miami is currently tied atop what is, perhaps, the most fascinating division in basketball. The Southeast features five teams that all have at least a plausible shot at raising a division banner at season’s end. The two clubs atop last year’s standings, the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards, are presently in the basement, with the supposedly on-the-rise Wizards four games back of the pack. Miami is leading the way right now, but the upstart Charlotte Hornets and surprising Orlando Magic are hot on their trail.
After salvaging what would have otherwise been a winless road swing, it’s back home for the Raps in time for a Sunday night clash with DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings (6:00pm, SN1).
Prediction: Raps 106, Kings 99 (record this season: 13-14)