It was the kind of response the Raptors are used to giving when faced with the inevitable bad run in any game.
They have built a reputation on withstanding runs and replying in kind, a reputation for playing well when it’s winning time, a reputation of mental toughness in the face of the adversity that comes in nearly every NBA game.
The response Friday night was impressive and important, and a 101-81 rout of the Miami Heat may represent a signal that thing aren’t as bad as they sometimes seem.
The Raptors had seen a 21-point lead disappear entirely and were reeling, and the Heat were rolling, when they finally decided enough was enough and regrouped like they seldom have this season.
Tied 61-61 after blowing that huge advantage, the Raptors came out of a soul-searching timeout with a 12-0 third-quarter run that they extended for one of their easiest victories of the season.
“We were determined, we were fast, we were cutting, we were not giving up on plays on defence. We really made them fire it around and every time they did, somebody was recovering to the man, especially late when it mattered,” coach Nick Nurse said.
“That’s what I always say: fourth-quarter defence is really the most important. And yep, very happy with the effort and speed of play tonight.”
The win came after a day of introspection and disappointment arising from one of their most disheartening losses, a 111-102 decision to Miami on Wednesday because of an overall effort Nurse termed “unacceptable.”
“Even though it was a close game (Wednesday) for the most part, a lot of the reason why it was so close was mistakes that we normally don’t make,” said Raptor Norm Powell, who had 23 points in a spot start for the injured Kyle Lowry on Friday. “So it was definitely warranted. There wasn’t much talking. We said after that first session there wasn’t much talking amongst the players.
“Aron (Baynes) came out and said it: We have enough lip service. We’ve got to go out there and do it and execute. And I thought we were able to do that today.”
But as good as they were in building a 17-point first-quarter lead and accepting Nurse’s challenge to work harder, they were far too nonchalant in the middle portion of the game. It wasn’t until they buckled down in the final five minutes of the third quarter and first six of the fourth that they were able to put Miami away.
It was as if they’d just had enough.
“I think it was a big win for us,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “Obviously, losing doesn’t sit well with anybody around here. And so the last day and a half people were pretty uptight, but it was good to get back on the winning side and to play the way that we do, with the aggressiveness and intensity and the effort that we showed tonight that was big for us.”
- Threes frame: Every Raptors starter made a three-pointer in a torrid first quarter when Toronto made eight of 11 long-distance shots in all and hung 37 points on the board. None was more welcome than the one by Pascal Siakam.
He had missed 12 straight threes over a three-game period, and was 2-for-20 from long distance over his last five outings, before connecting early on Friday night.
The Raptors’ hot shooting start included one stretch where they made threes on three straight possessions in a 55-second span — VanVleet, Baynes and OG Anunoby connecting.
- Big relief: Baynes continues a resurgence.
The starting centre, who didn’t play a minute in three straight games on a western swing, had his second solid outing in a row against the Heat and their all-star centre Bam Adebayo.
Baynes played 23 minutes, had six rebounds, made a three-pointer and was a solid presence defensively. With Chris Boucher having an off night, Baynes even got on the court in the second quarter, time when he’s usually watching a small Raptors lineup play.
“(He’s) playing with a little more feel, confidence and physicality,” Nurse said. “Think he’s rebounding better, blocking out better.”
- OG for three: Anunoby finished with 21 points and made five three-pointers as he continues the best scoring streak of his young career. He has scored in double figures in seven straight games.
His three-pointer in the third quarter, when Toronto was in a prolonged scoring drought, lifted some tension from the way the Raptors had been playing.
“We hadn’t scored in a bit, and that one kind of got the lid off the basket for us a little bit, so to speak.” Nurse said.
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