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With his dominant big man out of the game, Kyle Lowry stepped up for the Raptors when they needed it most.
The struggling point guard scored 33 points as Toronto took back home court in a 95–91 Game 3 win over the Heat on Saturday.
Lowry was having one of the worst shooting postseasons ever entering Game 3. Outside from a half-court buzzer beater in Game 1, the guard had yet to put his stamp on the series in any way, and was being thoroughly outplayed by his counterpart Goran Dragic. Lowry flipped the script on Saturday. After a sprained right ankle to Jonas Valanciunas, Lowry took over in the second half, at one point scoring 12 of his team’s 15 points during a critical stretch in the third quarter.
In the fourth, the Raptors kept feeding their point guard, and Lowry responded. He hit a clutch three out of a pick-and-roll. He stole the ball and scored on a fast-break layup. And with less than a minute to go and Toronto nursing a one-point lead, Lowry hit a step-back midrage jumper to halt Miami’s comeback. Lowry made nine of his 13 shots in the second half, including five threes.
The Heat wasted a spirited effort from Dwyane Wade, who scored 38 points and shot a miraculous 4 of 6 from three, in a losing effort.
Toronto seemed prime to run away with the game after the first half. Valanciunas was dominating Hassan Whiteside, and then feasted even more once Whiteside left with a right knee sprain. Valanciunas abused all of Miami’s bigs, finding every shot he wanted on post-ups, and inhaling glass on the offensive boards.
The Raptors were up 55–42 when Valanciunas left with the sprained ankle in the third quarter. Miami, which up until Valanciunas’s injury looked like mice running around in a shoebox on offense, finally woke up when the big man went down.
Wade and Miami went to work, finishing the third on a big run to send the game into the fourth quarter tied at 68. Wade was firing on all cylinders, snake-dribbling to the rim, swishing home elbow jumpers and unexpectedly finding his stroke from three.
In the final frame, Lowry was too much, and Joe Johnson missed a potential game-tying three with under 30 seconds left, allowing Toronto to ice the game at the line.
The Raptors now have firm control of the series, especially if Lowry can maintain his Game 3 form. The Raptors’ backcourt has been the biggest issue throughout all of their playoff runs, and Saturday could give Lowry enough confidence to finish the series strong. If Valanciunas can return, it doesn’t matter who is in the game at center for Miami, Toronto will have the advantage.
The Heat have to be kicking themselves after letting Game 2 slip away and wasting Wade’s big effort in Game 3. Erik Spoelstra is out of options at center, and the offense is in serious trouble when Udonis Haslem plays major minutes at the five. Justise Winslow and his flailing offense couldn’t get in the game Saturday, and outside of Wade and Dragic, no one has proven to consistently hit shots.
If Whiteside can’t return, Miami’s chances to win this series become very slim. Whiteside struggled with Valanciunas in the post, but he offers more resistance than anyone else, and he can also affect the game on the offensive end. The Heat also need Luol Deng to return to the player he was from Round 1. Deng has played great defense against Toronto, but his offense has vanished at times in a series Miami desperately needs easy looks.
If Whiteside stays out, it may be time for Miami to turn to Deng or Winslow at center and see if it can run past Toronto. Even still, the Raptors’ offense looked its best in Game 3, and the decision by Dwane Casey to put Patrick Patterson back in the starting lineup paid dividends.
Ultimately, Saturday belonged to Lowry, who elevated his level of play in the game’s tightest moments. If that continues, the series will belong to Toronto.