The Conference Semi-final series between the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat took an unfortunate turn this weekend when both centers, Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside left the game with injuries. JV has a sprained right ankle and will not return for the rest of the series, while for Whiteside (sprained MCL) it seems like the same fate but official word has yet to be released. Even though both big men may be out of the equation, it will still be a close series? And by close I do mean “needing overtime to decide 2 out of 3 games and in total only 2 points, 1 basket, separates both teams” kind of close.
It is no secret that the #2 seed in the East has struggled in these playoffs. Whether it was DeMar DeRozan missing shots or Kyle Lowry losing confidence or both, the Raptors sure haven’t had an easy time of it. They are not as smooth as the Golden State Warriors and they are not as savvy as the San Antonio Spurs. What the Raptors are best known for is their resiliency (that’s good) and how they always make things difficult for themselves (that’s bad). So as hope began to rise north of the border because Whiteside might not be returning to the series, the Raps had to make it hard on themselves yet again, by getting one of their own injured.
It seemed like a harmless block but the awkward landing has resulted in a sprained right ankle for JV. It is the Raptors bad luck however that the injury happened to their most consistent player of the series and the best player in game 3 (16 pts/12 reb) up until that moment. It’s actually quite sad for the big guy as he was playing the best basketball of his career. Let me take a moment and wish the best of health to you both and hope you are able to play for your teams’ real soon. Recently the NBA has moved away from the prototypical slow, big man in the middle and has been favouring more of a quicker, athletic “small ball” type of play. The same has just happened in this series, but it has come out of necessity and not necessarily by choice. So the question becomes how does this affect the series?
Valanciunas has played better than Whiteside over these last three games and therefore his absence hurts the Raptors more, maybe even a lot more. The whole series will be changing because of this as Miami’s best defence against JV so far was hoping his teammates would forget to pass it to him. That actually has been happening unfortunately, way too often. But as big as the gap is, the Raptors have been preaching a philosophy all year which fits in with their resiliency (you remember, the stuff they do well!)
“Next man up,” – a statement by Coach Casey with reference to the bench players always having to be ready in case their number gets called. Norman Powell did it when DeMarre Carroll was hurt. Bismack Biyombo also filled in admirably this year when JV was hurt. The Raptors have more depth than the Heat and it is time that the next man steps up to fill the gap that exists. Biyombo has not had a good series and Luis Scola has been horrible and by horrible I mean he has looked old, slow and even my shot is better than his. But with a day to adjust I do believe that these players will continue the Raptors resiliency and step up these last few games. They may not win game 4, but I do believe they will win the series.
For the Raps to advance to the Eastern Conference final however, they will need a couple of things now that the big guys are out. Their all-star guards need to match up with the Heat’s all-star guards and Biyombo and Scola need to outrebound and play better defence than Udonis Heslam, Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts.
Oh yeah… it certainly wouldn’t hurt either to have Patrick Patterson hit a few more of these.
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