MIAMI – If you were trying to concoct a recipe for a classic NBA lay-down game, it would go something like this:
Start with at least one night in a noted party city, preferably two.
Add in an afternoon start on a Sunday.
Mix in said team’s star player taking the game off and top it off with a dash of daylight savings time.
Let it sit for a couple of hours and voila: a 20-point loss that could have been booked when the visiting team got off the bus.
Those were the ingredients the Toronto Raptors were dealing with as they strolled into American Airlines Arena for a 3:30 p.m start on Sunday in sunny Miami, where the sea breezes were blowing and the temperatures were pushing 30C.
But the Raptors (48-19) turned the recipe inside out and into one of their most complete performances since the All-Star break as they carved up the red-hot Miami Heat 125-104 in a game they led for nearly 47 straight minutes.
The ball moved (32 assists), the shots were wide open (a franchise-record tying 21 threes on 40 attempts), and the pace was high, to the delight of large representation of Raptors fans in town for March Break, with ‘Let’s Go Raptors’ chants drowning out ‘Let’s Go Heat’ for most of the afternoon.
Kyle Lowry was brilliant with 25 points and 10 assists – “it’s the warm weather man” – while Pascal Siakam finished with 20 points and five assists on 12 shots as the Raptors shot 57 per cent from the floor and 53 per cent from deep to off-set 21 turnovers.
Central to several themes was the presence and performance of little-used Patrick McCaw in the Raptors starting lineup in place of Kawhi Leonard who sat for the third straight Sunday due to ‘load management.’
Maybe it was a nod to the toll the city of Miami can take on visiting teams, maybe it was a hunch, but giving McCaw – a clever free-agent signing over Christmas – 26 minutes to bring his unique brand of all-out energy proved to be a wise choice by Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.
“He was unbelievable man,” said Raptors point guard Lowry. “The kid did a great job tonight. Followed the game plan to a ‘T’. Just given an opportunity and taking advantage of it. That was a great, great game by him. The numbers won’t say it, but he had an unbelievable game.”
The numbers weren’t completely silent. McCaw used his season-high in minutes to chip-in a season-high three triples on three attempts and finished the game with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
But less quantifiable was the ‘pop’ that the lithe 6-foot-7 wing played with from the outset. By the time he sat down after his first nine minutes stint – and having taken only one shot, a lay-up that he missed – the Raptors were leading 27-10.
“The biggest thing that I always get concerned of, especially down here, is the energy to start the game,” said Nurse. “They play with tremendous energy in general, and down here especially. They like to have [Justise Winslow] run the point, and we thought Patrick’s speed, we’d stick him in there and try to disrupt that from the start and that would give us an overall jolt, maybe slow them down a little and get us going. It was big. And he shot the ball on top of that, which is an extra bonus.”
The 23-year-old’s best moments came during a 17-0 run near the end of the second quarter that split the game open and allowed the Raptors to take a 68-54 lead into the half. McCaw hit a pair of threes in the final minute before the half – part of the flurry of four by the Raptors in the final two minutes of a pivotal second quarter.
For the St. Louis native, three triples and four shots overall is a waterfall for one of the least willing shooters on the roster – his usage rate of 10.7 per cent is lowest on the team by a wide margin.
“The shooting Gods were with us today,” said Nurse. “[But] I’ll tell you what we have been doing [with McCaw]: We’ve been working extra hard with him. We put him on almost a summertime program two weeks ago with his corner threes especially. We’ve tweaked a little bit of his technique and tried to speed him up a little, and have guys flying at him. We’re charting it. We’re doing a lot of things to get him involved. We figure it’s really hard in any high-level game to play with any total non-offensive player in this league. We figure at least we can space him. Tonight was a big step forward. It’s good to see the hard work pay off.”
McCaw, who played a role in two championship runs with the Golden State Warriors before joining the Raptors, knew he had to be ready for when his name was called.
“For me, it’s just about getting in a rhythm and feeding off my teammates and picking my spots and being ready to shoot the ball. Coach Nurse has just been telling me: be ready, stay ready, continue to work hard, just encouraging me to shoot the ball because he knows I have a pretty good jump shot so I’m just taking my shots when I have them.”
If he can find that rhythm even a little bit he could find himself in a more regular part of the rotation.
It makes sense that the Raptors will shorten their rotation come playoff time so using these Leonard absences – he missed his 19th game on Sunday (in which the Raptors are now 14-5) and five of the past 12 — to figure out who fits best at the bottom end of a nine-man rotation is one way to use what remains of the regular season wisely.
There are other candidates for the role. OG Anunoby had another impressive defensive outing and powered home a pair of fourth-quarter dunks that prove the kind of aggressiveness he’s capable of and Norm Powell had 15 points in 24 bench minutes while knocking in three triples and contributing some quality primary defence on veteran Heat superstar Dwyane Wade that was noted by Nurse as well.
But on a warm afternoon in a vacation spot, McCaw was the one who recognized there could be a job to be had and he put forward a strong application.
“For me, every time I step on the floor – three or four minutes or 20 minutes – for me it’s an audition and a chance to show ‘hey this kid knows how to play the game of basketball’” said McCaw. “If it’s scoring or rebounding, I just try to do every little thing I can while I’m on the floor to help my team win.”
It’s a recipe the Raptors might be able to work with.