TORONTO — The 2-3 side of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket has all the Game 7s. After needing seven games to dispatch the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are, appropriately, going to Game 7 to determine who gets to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.
The home team has won 99 (80.5 percent) of the 123 Game 7s in NBA history, including 10 of the last 11. Of course, the one loss in that stretch belongs to the Raptors, who lost at home in Game 7 of the first round two years ago.
Home-court advantage should play a role on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Home teams are 43-22 with a NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of plus-7.4 in these playoffs. But as loud as the crowd will be inside and outside the Air Canada Centre, the game (and the series) will be determined between the lines.
Here are a few things to look out for…
Heat in the paint
The Heat have been playing small quite a bit since they lost Hassan Whiteside to a sprained knee in Game 3. In Game 6 on Friday, they went all in, starting 6-7 Justise Winslow at center and leaving both Udonis Haslem and Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench for all 48 minutes.
That doesn’t mean that they’ve turned into the Golden State Warriors from the perimeter. The Heat have three guys who have been able to shoot decently from the outside in this series. Two of those three guys – Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade – have taken most of their jumpers from inside the 3-point line, and the other – Josh Richardson – has attempted fewer threes (15) than Wade (16).
Sixty-four percent of the Heat’s points, the highest rate in the conference semifinals, have come in the paint or at the free throw line. They need to attack to score. And the Raptors, more than anything, need to keep Miami out of the paint and protect the rim. That’s why Toronto has allowed just 94 points per 100 possessions with either Jonas Valanciunas or Bismack Biyombo on the floor and 122 in 62 minutes with both off the floor.
Since Valanciunas was lost to an ankle injury in Game 3, Biyombo’s presence has been important. But it’s not his job alone to protect the basket, and the Raptors’ perimeter players need to do a much better job of staying in front of their Miami counterparts than they did in Game 6 on Friday.
Dragic goes away
At times, it has felt like these teams have been playing for the Re-Screen Championship, with guards on both ends of the floor dribbling past a ball screen, getting nothing out of it, and then getting another screen from the same teammate in the opposite direction.
On Friday, both Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade had success when they “rejected” a ball screen and drove away from the screener.
Here’s Dragic setting up Cory Joseph, who’s focused on Winslow’s screen…
Dragic catches Joseph leaning, goes right, and eventually scores in the paint.
Dragic also had some success in attacking close outs when he received a pass on the weak side of the floor. The Raptors’ guards have been aiming to contest catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, but were unable to balance that with containing the drive on Friday.
According to SportVU, the Heat have a brutal effective field goal percentage of 38.4 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the series have scored 1.16 points per possession on drives over the last five games.
For the Raptors, the choice should be easy on close-outs: Let ’em shoot and don’t let ’em get by you.
The other three factors
Game 6 was, by far, the Heat’s best offensive game of the series. But over the six games, the bigger difference between Toronto’s three wins and Miami’s three was has been on the Raptors’ end of the floor. The Raptors scored 103 points per 100 possessions over Games 2, 3 and 5, but just 90 over Games 1, 4 and 6.
Toronto shot decently in Game 3, but not in their other two wins. And the difference in their offense in wins vs. losses has been more about the other three factors of efficiency: turnovers, free throws and rebounding.
In their three wins, the Raptors have committed just 11.4 turnovers per 100 possessions. In their three losses, they’ve committed 14.1.
In their three wins, the Raptors have attempted 33 free throws for every 100 shots from the field. In their three losses, they’ve attempted just 23 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.
And in their three wins, the Raptors have grabbed 24 percent of available offensive rebounds and averaged 13.7 second chance points. In their three losses, they’ve grabbed 15 percent of available offensive boards and averaged just 8.3 second chance points.
In Game 5, though the Heat played small for all 48 minutes, Toronto grabbed just eight of 42 available offensive rebounds.
Neither team has shot well in this series, but extra possessions (via offensive rebounds) and lost possessions (via turnovers) have been critical. Every one counts.