It was a do-or-die for both the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors, last night. Both teams were playing Game 7s on their home floor and both did not disappoint. For the Heat, it was a blowout 106-73 win led by Goran Dragic's 25 points against the Charlotte Hornets and a nail-biting 89-84 win led by DeMar DeRozan's 30 points for the Raptors against the Indiana Pacers. With the Heat and Raptors both advancing past the first round, they will now meet in the second round of the playoffs for the very first time.
The bigger story in this series is that the Raptors won their first ever seven-game playoff series. The Raptors advancing to the second round is just the second time in the franchise's history and the first since 2001. Today, the Raptors task at hand is to find a way to stop Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
For the Heat, it is the first time advancing to the second round of the playoffs after missing the playoffs last season. This also marks the first playoff appearance in the post-LeBron era. Today, the Heat will have to rely on Dwyane Wade and Co. to stop the Raptors momentum, who have home-court advantage.
What to Expect from Both Teams
Recent history shows that the Raptors are not a playoff team but a regular season team. However, Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey can only focus on what is in front of them.
"I'm not thinking about what happened two seasons ago," Casey said in a team press conference. "I'm thinking about the Miami Heat."
The Raptors were bounced out early in the first round of the playoffs in the last two seasons. Back in 2014, the Raptors lost in Game 7 to a six-seed Brooklyn Nets team and in 2015, they got swept to a five-seed Washington Wizards team.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is also focused on what is to come.
"I didn't celebrate the win too much," Lowry said.
Following the Raptors Game 7 victory against the Pacers, Lowry was immediately looking at the Heat's playbooks and was watching tape. Lowry who struggled in the series against the Pacers, averaged only 13.9 points per game.
Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan on the other hand played mediocre. He led the team with 30 points but struggled from the field, shooting 10 for 32.
For the Raptors to have any chance in beating the Heat, they need to play at their all-star level. The supporting cast for the Raptors also need to do their part. Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll need to bring their energy on defense to shutdown Miami's key players.
Keeping the Heat's key players on lock will make it easier for the Raptors to win games.
For the Miami Heat, it is all about consistency. Key players such as Wade, Dragic, Joe Johnson and Hassan Whiteside need to play at their level in order to fend off the Raptors. The Heat's style of play is to pound the paint. With the Raptors not having that big man stopper other than Bismack Biyombo, the Heat will bully their way to the paint and score at will.
The Heat must play with consistency and by their way of style to defeat the Raptors.
Regular Season Series Matchup
The Raptors won the regular season series against the Heat three games to one. The Heat won the first matchup back in Nov. but the Raptors blanked them out by winning the next three.
DeRozan averaged 29.3 points per game in the series and that turned out to be his highest points per game average against any Eastern Conference team this season.
Wade averaged 18.3 points per game in the series. The Heat were blown out in two of the three losses with a 17 average margin of defeat.
Then again, coaches and players always say that the regular season is meaningless and playoffs are a different story. Game 1 will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto at 8:00 p.m. ET.