TORONTO (AP) — With their first-choice lineup on the floor for the second straight game, the Toronto Raptors were threatening to blow out the Miami Heat, up 18 points in the second quarter.
It ended up a lot more interesting than the Raptors wanted, with the Heat rallying before DeMar DeRozan and Co. held on for a 96-94 victory Friday night in the regular-season home finale.
“They play as well as anyone in this league,” DeRozan said after scoring 39 points. “They play extremely hard, they’re a very tough team and they showed it tonight. It was a great test for us, coming down to the last couple of games, have that playoff intensity and that’s what it was tonight.”
In the process, DeRozan broke Vince Carter’s franchise record with his 31st 30-point game of the season, shooting 14 of 32 from the floor. Carter set the mark in 2000-01.
“I never think about it until it gets brought up to me,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely always a cool accomplishment when you can pass a guy like Vince in anything.”
Cory Joseph added 14 points off the bench, while Kyle Lowry, in his second game back following a 21-game absence due to wrist surgery, added another 12.
While he lacked the sharpness of his 27-point outing in Detroit on Wednesday, Lowry said he felt no ill effects from the injury to his shooting wrist. He was more concerned about how the Raptors allowed Miami back into the game in the second half, with the Heat completing their comeback by tying the game with 4:43 remaining on Hassan Whiteside’s alley-oop dunk. But Serge Ibaka responded with a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s lead and though Tyler Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to cut the lead to two points, the Raptors were able to hang on
“I think the NBA in general it’s hard to play against professional teams because at the end of the day all teams are going to make a run,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
Sitting in ninth spot in the Eastern Conference, Miami is now a game back of Indiana and Chicago with three games remaining.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says having his team’s playoff chances hanging in the balance has been very much the norm for his team, which was 19 games under .500 at one point this season.
“This is the way we’ve been for the last two and a half, three months,” he said. “We’ve been in our March Madness, we feel like every single game has had the feeling of an elimination game for several straight weeks.”
James Johnson led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds for Miami against his former team, while Goran Dragic added another 18. While Dragic said it was frustrating to see the comeback effort fall short, with time running out on their season, the point guard said it’s important his team keeps battling, with a visit to Washington on Saturday night looming large.
“We never used excuses that someone is hurt or we are tired, we don’t care about that,” Dragic said. “We just want to do our job. It’s back-to-back and we play another good team, so we are going to have to show that we can play.”
Heat: F Luke Babbitt (hip) missed the game. Miami players have missed 312 games due to injury or illness, the most in the NBA.
Raptors: Toronto won the season series against the Heat for the third straight season. Before the final regular-season home game, DeRozan addressed the fans from center court to thank them for their support this season. For the sixth and final time this season, the Raptors wore their blue-and-white Toronto Huskies jerseys, commemorating the 1946-47 Basketball Association of America franchise. Toronto is 6-0 while wearing the throwback uniforms.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ home opener isn’t until Tuesday, but Blue Jays legend Joe Carter, whose walk-off home run ended the 1993 World Series, was in attendance on Friday. After being presented with a personalized Toronto Huskies shirt, Carter threw signed mini basketballs into the crowd.
HE SAID IT
“If you need a scouting report on how to defend him, don’t ask us.” — Spoelstra on DeRozan, who has averaged 32.3 points against the Heat in four games this year.
Heat: Visit Washington on Saturday knowing a win will secure the season series over the Wizards.
Raptors: Visit New York on Sunday aiming for a seventh straight win over the Knicks.