When you’re trying to hold onto a one-point lead in the closing seconds of a one-possession game, you need focus, communication, and attention to detail and quick decision-making.
Welp, zero out of three ain’t great, Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors held an 89-88 lead over the visiting Miami Heat with 3.1 ticks remaining after a clutch drive and putback layup by All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. All they needed to do to finish off a sweep of their road-home back-to-back was lock in for that final few seconds, and keep the Heat from getting a good look at the basket. Instead, the Raps got their wires crossed something fierce:
Several Toronto defenders got lost trying to weave through the pre-inbounds motion on Miami’s sideline out-of-bounds set. That allowed point guard Goran Dragic to make an easy feed to swingman Wayne Ellington, who blew past an out-of-control closeout by second-year forward Pascal Siakam, made his way to the basket, and finished over a late contest by rookie wing OG Anunoby for a game-icing layup with just three-tenths of a second left on the clock.
THEY LEFT ELLINGTON ALONE IN THE CORNER! pic.twitter.com/hBzWDukryE
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 10, 2018
An attempted full-court, game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-point try by DeRozan clanged off the back rim, allowing Miami to escape with a 90-89 victory in a physical, hard-fought game that saw Serge Ibaka and James Johnson ejected after squaring off in the third quarter, and DeRozan and Dragic get a little frisky after the final buzzer:
DeRozan & Dragic get into it at the end, get separated quickly pic.twitter.com/qSAmKWkPD6
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 10, 2018
While some key faces have changed, it is perhaps worth noting that the Raptors and Heat went the distance in a seven-game second-round playoff series just two years back; there does not appear to be much love lost between these two teams. And if they’re going to play more games like this, I wouldn’t mind signing up for another seven in a few months’ time.
But that’s for later. For now, let’s go back to the game-winner.
The design by head coach Erik Spoelstra — Ellington screening for Josh Richardson at the left elbow, then cutting across the top of the key toward the sideline around a screen from center Kelly Olynyk at the right elbow as big man Bam Adebayo cleared out to the far corner before Olynyk screened in the paint to free Richardson heading to the 3-point arc — created so much confusion in a young Raptors team working without injured starting point guard and floor general Kyle Lowry that Miami honestly could have taken its pick of game-winning layup options. Check out how free Olynyk is as Ellington gets the ball and starts his drive:
Underrated aspect to this play is that Ellington draws so much attention even before the catch that Olynyk is left by himself right under the rim. pic.twitter.com/VyPajp4b01
— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) January 10, 2018
Ultimately, all those screens and all that motion just short-circuited the Raptors, who seemed to be directed to switch defensive assignments on every off-ball screen. That’s a sound idea in theory — if we trade off, we won’t get stuck chasing behind the play after getting hit by the pick! — but it can be tough to execute in practice, especially when three early 20-somethings (and DeRozan) are responsible for doing the executing.
Anunoby begins the play defending fellow rookie Adebayo, while Siakam’s responsible for Olynyk. As Ellington takes Olynyk’s screen and heads across the foul line toward the corner, though, both young forwards jump to pick Ellington up — somewhat understandable, since Ellington entered Tuesday shooting a blistering 41.7 percent from 3-point range (and 48.7 percent from the right corner), but still: you don’t want to have two dudes on one dude in that situation.
Things got more complicated when Olynyk stiffed Norman Powell on a screen in the lane, leaving Richardson running free and heading up to the top of the key. Anunoby saw that and, perhaps remembering that Richardson caught the ball in a similar situation and put away the Utah Jazz in Miami’s last game, broke back toward Richardson as Powell was rushing to get back into the play.
That left Siakam, alone and scrambling, to deal with Ellington in the corner, and to try to stop him — perhaps by committing the Raptors’ foul to give — before he could get all the way to the rim. It didn’t go Toronto’s way, leaving the Raptors with their first home loss since Nov. 5.
The last Raptors play was what happens sometimes when you have first- and second-year players playing pressure basketball
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) January 10, 2018
Entering tonight, teams were 0-11 on potential go-ahead FG in the final 10 seconds against the Raptors in the last 3 seasons.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2018
Heat ran the same EOG SLOB set against the Jazz/Raptors. Two defenders jumped out at Ellington as he flared to the corner. Siakam tries to recover to Olynyk because of the miscommunication between FVV & OG. pic.twitter.com/otlHhKo2Cs
— Ryan (@ry_nguyen) January 10, 2018
Utah stayed at home, giving Richardson a chance to attack a big man one-on-one and make a play in space. The Raptors … did whatever it is that was, giving Ellington a chance to be a hero. There’s something to be said for sticking with what works, and the Heat continue to do just that; they’ve now won five straight and 12 of their last 16 to move into fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
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