TORONTO – In what’s been a roller-coaster post-season for the Toronto Raptors, Game 1 versus Miami was the wildest ride yet.
The Raptors played poorly, then very nearly pulled off a victory after Kyle Lowry’s long-distance buzzer-beater forced overtime.
But it all fell apart over the extra five minutes, as Toronto dropped a 102-96 decision to the Heat on Tuesday, in the opener of their best-of-seven second-round playoff series.
Coach Dwane Casey couldn’t help but feel his team had given one away.
“You always think that when you have an opportunity to win,” Casey said. “There was a stretch there where we just didn’t execute on either end, and in a playoff situation, every possession is important.”
Jonas Valanciunas had 24 points and 14 rebounds, DeMar DeRozan added 22 points, Terrence Ross chipped in with 19, and DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph had 10 points apiece for the Raptors, who advanced to the second round for the first time in 15 years.
Lowry’s 39-foot bomb to force overtime was the single highlight on another dreadful night for Toronto’s all-star point guard. He didn’t get his first assist until 15 minutes into the game, and finished with almost as many fouls (five) as points (seven). He had just six assists.
“I tell him all the time, good or bad, I’ve got the utmost confidence in him,” DeRozan said. “I don’t care if he misses 15 shots in a row, I’m going to stand behind him just like if he’s making 15 shots in a row.
“He’s going to come around, it just sucks that we all had to go through this at this point in time of the season”
WATCH: Dwyane Wade talks Lowry’s half-court shot, sending game into OT
Goran Dragic scored 26 points to top the Heat, while Dwyane Wade finished with 24, moving into the 16th spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
The game between the No. 2 and 3 seeds was tightly matched from the opening tipoff.
Up 68-63 to start the fourth, the Heat stretched their lead to 10 points barely two minutes into the quarter. The Raptors chipped away at the difference, and Joseph’s driving layup with a minute to play cut Miami’s lead to two points, before Dragic responded with a gut-wrenching three-pointer that had fans heading for the exits.
But two Miami turnovers and a loose ball foul allowed Toronto to come back in the dying seconds. With Toronto down 89-83, Ross hit a three-pointer. The Heat managed just one free throw as Ross hit a free throw and then Lowry sank the tying three from long distance.
“I unfortunately had a very good look at it, I’m looking at the ball like, no way, this is not about to happen. Because it looked like it was dead on,” said Wade, who dropped to the court on one knee after the shot fell. “When it goes in, you’re just crushed for a minute.”
WATCH: Dwane Casey talks Raptors loss in overtime; Kyle Lowry’s shooting
The Raptors almost had another bite of the apple in overtime, when six Raptors points pulled Toronto to within three with 27 seconds left. But Wade pounced on a DeRozan turnover to clinch the victory for Miami.
Lowry said he can take some confidence in the fact the Raptors won the Indiana series without much of a scoring contribution from him.
“Tonight we had a chance to still win the game,” he said.
Game 2 is Thursday in Toronto, then the series shifts to Miami for Games 3 and 4.
On paper, the Raptors are favoured, winners of five of their previous six meetings with Miami. But the Heat owned the Raptors for several seasons before that. Prior to a Miami loss in March of last season, the Heat had won a whopping 16 straight against Toronto.
WATCH: Dwane Casey: Loss of Chris Bosh completely changed makeup of Miami Heat
It took both teams seven games to make the second round, Toronto edging the Pacers 89-84 on Sunday at home, and the Heat beating Charlotte in a 33-point rout.
The Raptors are used to playing from behind. They’ve only won one series opener, in the second round against Philadelphia in 2001.
“It’s basketball, a series is a series,” DeRozan said. “We don’t look at it like it’s difficult, we look at it like things we can clean up and get better at. A few things that we made a mistake on and still had a couple chances to win this game. We still got another opportunity to win this next game at home, and go on the road and do what we have to do.”
Miami is also playing without 11-time all-star Chris Bosh, who sat on the Heat bench in a designer suit. The former Raptor missed the final 29 games of the regular season after a blood clot was found in his left calf.
The game was played against a Maple Leaf background of red and white-clad fans, including 17-year NFL veteran Tony Gonzalez, who chucked footballs high up into the crowd during a timeout.
Outside, Maple Leaf Square drew another jam-packed crowd, while the popular Toronto sign in front of City Hall was lit in Raptors red and white.
Valanciunas, with 10 points, and DeRozan (eight) scored all of Toronto’s points in a first quarter that saw the Raptors briefly hold a six-point lead. They went into the second tied 18-18.
The Raptors used a 15-5 run to open a six-point lead, but the Heat fired back to pull even, and Toronto took a slim 43-41 lead into the locker-room at halftime.