TORONTO - The Raptors nearly shocked everyone with their second-half comeback in an eventual defeat to the two-time defending champs.
Everyone except the champs themselves, that is.
"We get the best of each team we play," the Heat's Dwyane Wade recognized shortly before his team handed the division-leading Raptors their ninth loss in 15 games to begin the season. "We don't even look at records, it doesn't matter."
"Teams come out and they're ready to play us, and rightfully so. We've earned it."
But the home team did not come out ready to play, not like their coach had hoped and expected them to following a similarly slow start in a defeat three days prior.
"Our defence, pressure on the basketball, tags and our rotations were a step slow in the first half," Dwane Casey said after Toronto's 90-83 loss to Miami.
A well-oiled machine, Miami's offence steamrolled over the Raptors in the first half. Toronto fell behind by 14 at the break and trailed by as much as 20 midway through the third quarter before the alarm clock finally went off.
Toronto's defence woke up, holding the Heat to one field goal in the final five minutes of the third quarter and cutting the deficit to two late in the fourth. Still, as it was against Brooklyn on Tuesday and has been so often in the past, it wasn't enough to save the Raptors from suffering an inevitable loss to a team that feasts on those who lose their focus.
"Right now we're a one-half team," Casey said. "We've got to get two solid halves put together."
Easier said than done.
"What's it going to take," Tyler Hansbrough asked, rhetorically. "That's a good question. It's a mindset. On the road we've had games where we've put it together and played pretty well, we've just got to do it at home."
"I don't know the answer to be honest with you," he continued.
"We're a hell of a team when we fight back but we can't let it get to that," said DeRozan, who again was exceptional in defeat; scoring 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting. "We've got to be a team that plays a full, two halves of basketball."
Even after showing up late, the Raptors had their opportunities thanks in large part to a renewed defensive focus that stymied Miami's free-flowing offence late in the game. Alas, Toronto turned the ball over 21 times - leading to 26 Heat points - and missed eight of ten fourth-quarter free throws.
DeRozan and Gay, both 80 per cent free throw shooters on the season prior to Friday's game, connected on five of their 14 attempts from the stripe.
"That's everything," Gay said of the missed free throws. "To finish a game you've got to hit free throws and finish at the rim. It was tough for us to do either."
Coming off a 3-for-12 performance on Tuesday - one that prompted a late-night shooting session - Gay was moderately better, scoring 21 points, however he needed 21 shots to do so. His inefficiency from the painted area persisted, especially late in the game, and his pair of missed free throws with a minute and a half left were crucial in defeat.
The Raptors are still searching for an answer to Casey's conundrum. How do they put it all together?
The Heat are and will continue to be the NBA's bench mark. They're more than an enormously talented team. On top of their talent they have developed an identity and chemistry as a team that is a joy to watch and almost impossible to stop. No matter how talented the team, the Heat know that what they've been able to achieve does not come easy for anybody.
"You can't cheat it," Wade preached. "I think the first year when we were together we tried to cheat it, we tried to say, 'lets do it right now' and we got to the championship but when we got there we realized that the continuity that we really needed, when we really needed it, wasn't there."
"We didn't have enough time to build it. So it takes time to build."
Toronto has dropped 12 straight games to the Heat since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Wade and 13 straight contests to Miami overall.
The Raptors will conclude a season-long four game homestand on Sunday afternoon playing host to the Denver Nuggets, a game you can catch on TSN 1050 Radio beginning at 1:00pm et.