10 things: Raptors lose to Heat behind historically poor shooting performance

William LouNBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 84-76 loss to the Miami Heat.

One — Unwatchable: I love defense as much as anybody, but this game was just difficult to watch. Neither team had any semblance of rhythm, nor could they capitalize on open opportunities. Miami was sloppy in their halfcourt offense, while the Raptors were just outright uninventive and unlucky. The Heat got a boost from rookie Tyler Herro early in the fourth, and that was enough to decide the game.

Two — Historic: The Raptors shot 6-of-42 (14.3 percent) from deep, which is officially the worst three-point performance in franchise history. At first it looked to be a blessing that the Raptors led after the first quarter despite shooting 1-of-11 from three, but that trend held for the entire night. Miami’s defense was strong, but the Raptors were simply misfiring on wide-open looks, which is hard to explain given that the Raptors rank fourth in three-point percentage. As former Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fond of saying, it’s a make-or-miss league.

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Three — Janky: The Heat are fond of playing zone, especially after it worked to great effect against the Sixers, but tonight’s strategy was almost reminiscent of a college game. Every miss by the Raptors only emboldened the Heat to continue packing the paint with their 2-3 coverage. Toronto found their way to the rim on a handful of occasions, but the Heat were mostly diligent in keeping the Raptors on the perimeter. Miami stayed in their zone coverage for at least three quarters of the game.

Four — Playmaking: Outside of hitting open threes, the only solution for the zone is to get the ball into the middle of the paint. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was good in that role for the first half, while Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby picked up the slack in the second half for the starting lineup. On the rare occasions where they successfully fed the post, the Raptors were able to find space in the paint to either finish strong on layups, or to kick out for an open shooter.

Five — Shorthanded: However, their inability to solve the zone really speaks to the Raptors’ lack of playmaking in their current state. Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam are excellent passers in the middle of the floor, but Nurse had to make do with lesser options. One of the issues with playing through forwards in the middle was that it was difficult to even get the pass inside, as Jimmy Butler and Derrick Jones Jr.’s length at the point of attack created deflections and costly leak-outs. On top of that, the Raptors were also without two of their best catch-and-shoot options in Norman Powell and Matt Thomas. Against a fully-healthy team, it would not be wise to zone against the Raptors.

Six — Uncharacteristic: The Raptors just won’t win if their point guards aren’t firing on all cylinders. Lowry and Fred VanVleet were far from their best, as they combined for 22 points on 7-of-32 shooting. Lowry is a streaky shooter and it’s not surprising that his three wasn’t falling, but it was odd to see VanVleet shoot 1-of-11 from deep. Maybe it just speaks to the nature of the game — VanVleet and Lowry typically spend most of the game trying to drive the ball instead of passing it inside and trying to pop open — but neither one had any semblance of rhythm.

Seven — Concern: That being said, this isn’t necessarily an outlier by the Raptors’ point guards. VanVleet and Lowry also shot 3-of-22 from three in last month’s loss to the Heat, and it’s worth wondering if it’s just a bad matchup. Similar to how VanVleet and Lowry struggled against the Sixers in last year’s playoffs, the Heat also have the personnel to make life difficult for Toronto’s diminutive backcourt. Bam Adebayo is an elite rim protector at the back, while players like Butler, Jones, and eventually Justise Winslow will be give the Raptors massive problems on the perimeter.

Eight — Worry: Lowry’s activity level noticeable dropped off after sustaining an ankle injury. Lowry made a beeline to the locker room, which made sparked concerns of a more serious injury, but he was able to return after the timeout after getting his ankle re-taped.

Nine — Shift: Nurse changed his starting five yet again, as Anunoby replaced Hollis-Jefferson in the starting lineup after it was flipped on New Year’s Eve. Nurse warns that a fluid starting five will be the norm moving forward, as he looks to get everyone comfortable in their different arrangements. With so much of the team on the injured reserve, Nurse should throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

Ten — Fun: Toronto’s next opponent is Brooklyn, who also love the 2-3 zone defense. Either the Raptors positively regress to the mean and blow the doors off the Nets, or they continue to misfire and put up another shaky effort. They’ve certainly had enough practice against the zone today, and Nurse should be drilling it into them in practice and shootaround before Saturday’s game.

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