Newcomer Miles looking to help Raptors reverse Game 1 curse

Dwane Casey sits down with Tim Micallef to talk about embracing a culture change with the Toronto Raptors, growing up in segregation, and watching DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry evolve as players.

TORONTO – C.J. Miles is the Toronto Raptors’ hired gun; the only outsider to figure prominently in the 2017-18 edition’s rotation. He was brought here to help the club join the NBA’s space-and-space revolution.

But, like we said, the guy is still new here. He claims to have no idea that the Dwane Casey-era Raptors are 0-7 in the opening games of playoff series and an incredible 0-5 at the Air Canada Centre as the higher seed.

“No idea,” Miles said when the nightmare was laid out for him. “I hadn’t even thought about it. I didn’t know it was a thing until just now.”


How soon he forgets. Miles played for the Indiana Pacers when they stole Game 1 from Toronto in 2016, a big reason that series turned from an on-paper cakewalk to a cage match overnight.

Game 1s at home are a big thing. There is no point in pretending otherwise. Losing them at home has contributed to the Raptors going 3-2 in series where their average seeding has been third and why in the series they’ve won as favourites, they’ve been pushed to seven games twice and six games once.

Kyle Lowry has been here for all of them and carries a large part of the blame. The last time the Raptors hosted the Washington Wizards for Game 1 was in the first-round of the 2015 playoffs; Toronto’s all-star point guard was 2-of-10 and 0-for-4 from three with three turnovers and fouled out after 33 minutes. It set the tone for the series, in which the fourth-seeded Raptors were swept and Lowry shot an abysmal 31 per cent from the floor and 21.7 per cent from the three. The next year the Raptors made it all the way to the Conference Finals and hosted two Game 1s at home and lost both as the East’s No. 2 seed. Last year, as the No. 3 seed, they lost to the No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks.

Lowry’s career line in five Game 1s in the friendly confines of the ACC?

How about 10.2 points, 6.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists? That’s not even the scary part. Lowry put that line together on 26 per cent shooting and 16 per cent from deep (that’s 5-of-31 for one of the NBA’s best shooting point guards). On average the Raptors were nine points worse when he was on the floor over those five games, not a good look for Toronto’s most significant player.

But Lowry has a plan.

“Our Game 1 is our Game 7 [Saturday], to be honest,” said Lowry, who shot 39.9 per cent from deep this season and broke his franchise record from made threes with 238, third in the NBA, but has shot 31 per cent from three in his post-season career. “That’s just how we’ve gotta do it. We’ve gotta play like it’s Game 7, like it’s our last game. I think that’s how we’ve gotta play every single playoff game this year. Every game’s a Game 7.

“We’ve lost a lot of Game 1s, so we’ve gotta play it like a Game 7. That’s the mentality that we have to have.”

For Lowry, this might be good idea. The last time he played in a Game 7 he led the Raptors to a closeout win over the Miami Heat in the second round in 2016 with the best performance of his playoff career — 35 points on 20 shots while knocking down 5-of-7 threes and grabbing seven rebounds to go along with nine assists.

But the trick here is for his teammates to be able to find their own energy levels.

When Miles was asked about what was the optimal mental state to promote shooting the ball well, he didn’t hesitate.

“Free. You have to be free,” he said. “You have to understand that they are good shots and shots you got to take. Those are shots you work on and what is wanted of you in a situation. It’s just a confidence thing.”


“They understand it,” said Raptors head coach Casey. “Our guys have played with a lot of freedom the entire year. Nothing’s different going into [Saturday]: guys moving the ball, passing the ball, take the shots you work on in practice and let it fly.”

It sounds so easy.

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The Raptors’ offensive remake has been fuelled in part by their three-point shooting and they absolutely shot freely as they ranked third in the NBA with 33 triples attempted, even while shooting just 35.8 per cent from beyond the arc. They made more threes than all but four teams, but missed more than all but three teams too.

The Raptors are 32-7 in games where they shoot at least their season average from deep. When they shoot 30 per cent or less they are 5-9.

And even Miles — who has shot just 19.4 per cent in 11 playoff games since he became a three-point specialist, compared to his 37 per cent regular-season average over the same four years — acknowledges that the bump and grind post-season basketball doesn’t always allow for the kind of unobstructed looks that make for easy shooting.

“The defence will obviously will be more attentive to certain things and here will be less slip-ups,” he said. “Hopefully there are more slip-ups for us so we can get more open looks. But the game definitely changes. It’s more physical. Every play is a big play. Everyone’s adrenalin is sky-high the whole game and it brings out the best in guys. They will bring their best and I think we will bring our best. I think we got a bunch of guys who are ready for this situation.”

No one needs to be more than Lowry, who says that some of the Raptors’ Game 1 woes can be attributed to not being ‘free’ enough. Maybe playing like it’s a Game 7 — but a relaxed version — will help.

“We’ve just been so uptight in Game 1s,” said Lowry. “[But] I think this is a different year for us. We wanna play like a Game 7, but we just wanna go out there and play our game. Different offence, different system, different type of way we play the game and approach it. It’ll be fun.”

But why so uptight Kyle?

“I mean, we’ve lost a lot of Game 1s.”

Which is why, says Casey, “you don’t want to make a huge deal of it.”

I think we can all agree it’s too late for that.

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