No one expected the big three to fall in the first round. However, what did surprise many is that the Miami Heat did not breeze by the series; now it will be interesting to see their possible semi-final matchup after the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets finish their series.
The Raptors have had an interesting season. While not necessarily expected to miss the playoffs, not many were expecting them to have the third best record in the Eastern Conference. One way, or rather, two ways they did it is, the 1-2 punch of DeMar DeRozan (24.5 ppg) and Kyle Lowry (18.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 5 apg), along with a solid center in Jonas Valanciunas (12 ppg, 12 rpg and 1.5 bpg), while also having a solid, deep bench.
In terms of how they match up with the Heat, it will be interesting. During the season, Miami had Toronto’s number by sweeping the season series 4-0. One takes a look at that and assumes it will be a foregone conclusion; however, it is a whole different story in the playoffs, not to mention 3/4 of those games occurred early in the season, before the increased production of the Raptors.
Additionally, they have been one of the best defenses in the league, at number seven in points allowed. However, the Miami Heat are just slightly better at fifth. This slight difference in statistic should create an extremely tight series, which could very well not see a single game at 100 or more. In terms of the defensive players on the Heat, it is likely that Miami may switch up their rotation by giving James Jones more minutes, simply because he is a more solid defender of the arc than Shane Battier.
Most importantly though, the Heat are going to struggle on the boards. Miami is the worst rebounding team in the NBA. The Raptors are not, by any stretch of the imagination, at the top of the game when it comes to rebounds; however, while Valanciunas averaged an average 8.8 rpg during the season, currently he is averaging 12 rpg in the playoffs, while the leader on the Heat is James with 8 rpg. If this is the case, the Heat are going to be in trouble.
This has been something that has been one of the Heat’s weaknesses since they were formed. The Miami Heat, even through their various runs, have always had a problem with size. Bosh may be 6’11”, but he is only averaging 5.3 rpg. Additionally, Bosh has been more of a jump shooter this season; in fact, during the last series with the Bobcats, he even branched out as a three-point shooter and was 9-13 from the arc. Unlike when he played for his previous team, which was the Raptors ironically, his rebounding numbers have plummeted. His last season on the Raptors, he averaged 10.8 rpg; in the first round in the playoffs he is averaging 5.3 rpg. That is a long way to fall down, and in an emotional series for Bosh, Toronto will exploit that weakness.
Another advantage Toronto has over Miami is their depth. The big three may be able to put points up game after game, but unlike their previous runs, they do not have the depth, as it is only those three who are averaging double figures in points. Toronto, on the other hand, have six guys averaging in double figures. The problem of course becomes that, in order for Miami to compete with Toronto offensively, they need all three guys to step up. However, the Raptors have guys to fall back on if a guy or two are not hitting. With guys like Wade and Bosh, who have a history of getting hurt, it is going to be risky putting all their eggs in one basket. Fortunately for them, the break between the two series should alleviate that problem.
Moreover, since Toronto has more contributors on the team, they also play like it. They are a team who is trying to get everyone involved in the game. They also are the younger team, and while they have all the components to upset the Heat, it is unlikely for it to happen. It may end up being a tough six-game series if the two meet in the next round.
The Nets are an interesting team. They were predicted to get far this year; however, they underperformed at the start of the season. Thankfully, since January, they have been one of the top teams in the NBA, frustrating teams across the board with their depth.
The season series played an interesting story between these two. The Nets finished off the Heat with a sweep of 3-0. That statistic is deceiving though, as two of those games were one-point victories and the third went into overtime. Considering that, both teams appear to be evenly matched.
Both teams are, ironically, terrible at rebounds, as they hold the worst and second worst rebounding statistic in the NBA.
They also share a similar offense, in that both have three guys who are averaging double figures in points. The problem for Brooklyn is that they do not have a Lebron James who is averaging 30 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 apg and 2.3 spg. If Brooklyn is to stop the Heat, they need a group effort, fortified from their depth. Miami has no one solid coming off the bench. Ray Allen, who was brought to Miami to give a boost, has been awful in the playoffs by only averaging 3.3 ppg.
What will play an interesting story line in this series is veteran leadership. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and even Andrei Kirilenko have all been deep into the playoffs. It may be the first year all of them are together, but that experience is going to help them in this series against the veteran Heat. The two teams even have a rivalry to an extent, with Pierce and Garnett having previously battled the Heat previously, when they were on the Celtics with backup Heat guard Ray Allen.
Considering how close these teams were in the regular season, they may have a similar meeting if they face off in the second round, where games might be decided in the final minutes of play. In fact, it very well could be a seven game series, but ultimately Miami will likely come out as the victors.
The defending champs have a target on their back, and teams are looking to upset them upon their three-peat. Their potential semi-finals matchup will not be easy for the Miami Heat. In fact, despite sweeping their first round, it would not be a surprise if they have a lengthy second round.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey