The second round of the playoffs, the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, are upon us. And for the Miami Heat it’s time to get dialed in for their Round 2 opponent, the Toronto Raptors.
When you think the Raptors, you think hiding in industrial kitchens, jello and full-speed sprinting. Okay, for real: When you think the Raptors, you think Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan; and with that, you think comes a relentless drive-and-kick game. If that’s what you thought, you’d be semi-correct
In this year’s first-round matchups, the Raptors averaged the second-most drives per game with 34.9 basket bounds per contest, per NBA.com/Stats. Along with their league-leading drive and dishing percentage (10.2 percent), the Raps were a nightmare for any slow-rotating defense.
Surely this is a new frontier the Heat must conquer, right? Wrong. The Heat have seen this before. Actually, they JUST saw it. Like, on Sunday. Through seven games, the Charlotte Hornets carved the Heat up with a salvo of 24.6 points per game on their rim running, which is the highest mark of any playoff team, and 10-plus points more than the Raptors’ modest mark: 14.1 points per game on drives.
The Hornets’ (and the Heat’s) lead guards were more efficient in their rim jaunts, too:
Source: By Jaelin Wilson (Stats from NBA.com/Stats)
Miami’s backcourt duo, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic have been insanely more efficient on their drives than their Round 2 foes. (Look how many times Kemba Walker went to the rack!) The Hornets’ guards put up better numbers than the Raps’ dynamic duo, too; and they had to face-off against Miami’s Block-topus in Hassan Whiteside, who stalked the paint, effacing tired shots. Whiteside is mainstay atop NylonCalculus.com’s “Rim Protection” leaderboards. Whiteside is tops in the league in points saved per game, at 2.27, per NylonCalculus.com. Whiteside also contests the second-most shots per game at the rim -- 41 percent. Which makes it all the more impressive that Charlotte’s buzzing ball-handlers got to the rack so often. Yet the Raptors' All-Star guards seemed to be trying to convert their drives in quicksand, resulting in lackluster numbers -- which could've even looked worse had they been squaring off against a near All-NBA talent in Whiteside, like Charlotte was.
If what we saw from Whiteside’s Game 7 performance is Miami’s new status quo, the Raptors are going to have to find another way to win (or get the Heat big man in foul trouble). Walker and Lin had success getting into Whiteside’s body before they finished around the rim, but that plan obviously fell through in Game 7. I’m sure Walker and Lin wanted to get into the paint, actually, I know they wanted into the paint. But Whiteside was standing tall and making himself felt, blocking shots and forcing lane-goers into tough decisions. Everyone has a plan until they get in the mouth -- it’s true. In Game 7, the Heat hit the Hornets in the mouth; and in Game 1 of the second-round, in Toronto, the Heat are more than likely going to come out swinging.
The Miami Heat may be entering a foreign environment in Game 1 of Round 2 but the Raptors game-plan may make them feel right at home.