TORONTO - It all started here six weeks ago and on Sunday the Heat continued their pursuit of history, steamrolling past the Raptors once more.
"You're talking about a well-oiled machine," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of the Miami Heat (51-14), who matched the second longest streak in NBA history, winning their 22nd consecutive contest after a remarkable fourth-quarter surge propelled them over Toronto, 108-91 at the Air Canada Centre.
"I mean those guys, not only offensively are they efficient," Casey continued, "defensively when they turn the heat up they can make it rough on you."
Although the Raptors (26-41) never led, they tied the game at 77 early in the fourth quarter before Ray Allen led a 28-4 Heat run to seal the victory, Miami's 11th straight over Toronto.
"They picked up their tempo in the fourth quarter," said Rudy Gay, who scored a game-high 27 in the loss. "I thought [we] matched it up until then. They picked us off, their vets hit threes [and] everybody played their part. That's something we can learn from."
Amir Johnson recorded his team-leading 14th double-double, and third in the last four games, with 18 points to go along with 18 boards, Jonas Valanciunas also scored 18 while DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross each finished with 12 for the Raptors.
Allen knocked down four big three-point shots that helped turn the game in the final quarter, where he poured in 16 of his 20 points off the bench for the Heat, who shot 58 per cent on the afternoon. Dwayne Wade paced the team with 24 points and nine assists on 10-of-15 shooting, LeBron James recorded his career-best 32nd double-double of 22 points, 12 rebounds and Chris Bosh scored 18 in his return to Toronto.
"We're enjoying everything right now," Bosh said after the game. "It's a lot of hard work but when we look back on it I'm sure we'll all really feel like we were a special team."
Fast Breaking Points
- Flipping the Switch
Early in the fourth quarter Toronto evened the score at 77, the first tie since the game was scoreless, after clawing back and ending the third on a 12-2 run. To their credit, the Raptors were fantastic in the third frame, crashing the boards -- as they did most of the afternoon -- and getting good looks around the rim. Miami had been scoring efficiently and moving the ball well to that point, so the Raptors' effort through 36 minutes was impressive and probably more than anyone expected of them in a game that was given to the Heat upon their arrival.
Then came the fourth quarter, where the reigning champs flipped the switch -- as they tend to do -- and what was a barnburner instantly become a bloodbath (literally, in the case of Amir's nose). If you blinked you may have missed it. The Big 3 had already been doing their thing -- James, Wade and Bosh combined for 64 points on 23-of-37 shooting -- but once Allen joined the party and it became a Big 4, Toronto had no chance.
"I thought we played in spurts," Casey admitted. "I thought we got the game within striking distance. But we've got to sustain that type of performance, that type of focus on both ends of the floor. Against a team like that there can't be lapses."
In addition to Allen's fourth-quarter sharpshooting the Heat recommitted themselves on defence, holding Toronto to 24 per cent from the field over the final 12 minutes. The Raptors -- as they have in the past --completely went away from what was working for them, limiting themselves to quick, long jumpers and forgetting about the painted area that was so kind to them earlier in the game.
The Stat: The Heat shot 9-for-14 in the fourth quarter, each one of their field goals was assisted. For the third time in as many games, the Raptors finished with more turnovers (16) than assists (15).
- Rudy and Amir
The duo that led Toronto to victory over the Bobcats on Friday reprised their roles against a completely different animal on Sunday, keeping their team in striking distance for most of the game. For Gay, who continues to play through back pain, it's a promising sign to see him string together back-to-back productive and efficient outings. Considering the level of competition, it's reasonable to take Friday's 11-for-16, 28-point performance with a grain of salt but Sunday's effort against an elite team and premier defender in James deserves its due. There's only a handful of wing players in this league that are capable of going toe-to-toe with LeBron and despite his well-documented faults (inefficiency, shot selection), when he's playing at a high level he gives the Raptors a fighting chance in a match-up like this.
"To be like that you have to be able to compete against him," said Gay, who spoke about embracing the match-up with James. "Obviously everybody in the league is striving to be at the level he is because he's playing probably at the top of the game right now."
Although his recent performance has not reflected it, Gay is still battling lingering back pain that has plagued him since the beginning of the month. "I'm just used to playing with it, that's all," he told TSN.ca. "This is the league, it's the NBA, you've got to play through something. If you don't stand for something, you fall for anything, that's the old saying. I'm [going to] go out there and play as hard as I can no matter what the circumstances are."
It was just another day at the office for Johnson, who followed up Friday's career-high of 21 rebounds with another 18 boards. Again, his hard work helped set the tone on the glass, where the Raptors held an impressive 51-26 advantage (24-2 offensive). With his fourth double-double in March, third in the last four games, it's certainly not unreasonable to argue that this has been the best month of his eight-year career. "He's our guy inside," Casey said of Johnson after his night was cut short following a hard fall in the fourth. "He gets a bloody nose and wants to stay in the game but we've come to expect that from Amir."
"Amir's a soldier. I'm a soldier," Gay said. "We're going to play through things no matter what. The city needs us, our team needs us. We're going to play through things, me and Amir."
The Stat: The Raptors scored a season-high 62 points in the paint where they outscored Miami by 24.
Notables and Quotables
With the win, Miami sweeps the season series against the Raptors for the third straight year. ... Led by Allen, the Heat's bench outscored Toronto's reserves 41-14. Alan Anderson, Sebastian Telfair and John Lucas III were each held scoreless on a combined 0-of-12 shooting. ... Kyle Lowry was also held without a point, missing all seven of his attempts in 29 minutes. ... Miami ties the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second longest winning streak in one season, trailing only the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33). The streak began in Toronto on Feb. 3. ... Former Raptors guard-forward Morris Peterson was sitting courtside and given a standing ovation after a video tribute was played on the big screen. ... Blue Jays legend Joe Carter and Canadian high school phenom Andrew Wiggins were also in attendance.
"I don't really care about their streak. We're pretty much worried about ourselves. We really wanted to get that win."
"We've had some struggles, some ups and downs some trouble with our identity, how we're going to play and the kind of basketball we're going to play but I think we've got[ten] better as a team and closer as a unit."
"It's a special team. It's a special ride right now that we're on and I think the best thing about it is we're doing it together, we're doing it for one another and just want to try and keep it going. It's not about the streak, it's about us getting better each and every day, preparing to win each and every night and we've been able to be fortunate to do that."
"It wasn't too long ago, having very tough seasons, being on the losing end a lot of the times and that's helped me really appreciate this situation and it's helped me lace them up and go to work, keep my complaints to none and just do what I'm supposed to do, do my job as best as I can and just enjoy this ride."
The Raptors travel to Charlotte for a re-match with the Bobcats (14-52) on Wednesday before a weekend home-and-home set with the New York Knicks (38-26).