Heat-Raptors Game 7: the players

The words “Game 7” might not stir the soul on Sunday afternoon in Canada as much as they ordinarily would in a second-round NBA playoff series, but the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors won’t care.

They shouldn’t.

The reality of sports contains an always-present disclaimer: An event might not live up to the hype or the hope. The other side of the coin, however, reminds us that as bad as a game or series might become, the essence of competition never ceases to exist. From the tensions and passions inherent to high-stakes competition, beauty or goosebumps (or both) can emerge.

Yes, Heat-Raptors has been the Hunter S. Thompson Book of Exodus Playoff Series: filled with fear and loathing (the Thompson part)… and a whole lotta plagues straight from the Old Testament.

Bodies have dropped like flies. Rims have been assaulted by all the bricks from both teams. Both coaches have profoundly struggled to find the approaches that work for them. Shot selection and ball movement? Those are good ideas, largely (but not completely) untried in this series.

The basketball gods have chosen to give us seven games of Heat-Raptors, but only five of Trail Blazers-Warriors. Again, sports don’t always fulfill our hopes, and it’s an element of mercy that this series will finally end, even though the magic normally associated with “Game 7” doesn’t course through the veins for this series the way it would have for a Western Conference semifinal.

Yet, even though this series has been hard to watch, and even though this Game 7 is primarily a product of the injuries and weaknesses which have descended upon the Heat and Raptors, Sunday’s clash in Canada still confers possibilities upon the competing teams. The winner will get a chance to play LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series will almost surely be a sweep. The first two games in Cleveland should be blowouts. Game 3 might be the one close game of the series, and Game 4 should be another wipeout as the Cavs get in light work on their road to the NBA Finals.

Nevertheless, Miami and Toronto are playing for the right to test themselves against the best team in their conference. The Heat could derive a lot of benefits from being able to throw Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson into the cauldron of Cleveland. Toronto, even if it has nothing left in the tank for the Cavs, would reach the first conference final in the history of the franchise, a significant achievement no matter how bereft of artistry.

This is still competition. This is still the drama of survival, the theater of aspiration.

It’s still going to be a compelling scene in the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.

We are brought to the simple but powerful question: Which players will own the moment?

Will it be Goran Dragic, who owned Game 6 on Friday night in Miami?

Will it be Kyle Lowry, who owned Game 3 — the road victory which restored order for the Raptors in this series — and played a lot like his excellent regular-season self in Game 6?

Will it be DeMar DeRozan, an eternally frustrating player who nevertheless possesses the capacity to score in large quantities and make you forget all his weaknesses in the five-minute stretches when he can do no wrong?

Will Bismack Biyombo surprise us with a breakout half, as he delivered in the first half of Game 5?

Will Justise Winslow play center and manifest his competitive DNA once again?

Will Josh Richardson, bothered by a shoulder injury for much of the past two weeks — but who played fearlessly and well in Game 6 — step forward for Miami?

Will Joe Johnson, who finally hit a three late in Game 6, and who starred for the Brooklyn Nets in a Game 7 in Toronto two years ago, play the one strong game of this series, which — at this point — is all the Heat need to advance?

Will Cory Joseph, given an understanding of what it takes to win championships during his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, bring an ice-veins performance to his native Canada for Game 7 and lift the Raptors into virgin territory?

Will Patrick Patterson or Terrence Ross hit threes for the Raptors when the Heat converge on Lowry or DeRozan and try to get the ball out of their hands?

Last but certainly not least, will Dwyane Wade be Dwyane Wade one more time?

Rhythm. Game-to-game carryovers. Aesthetic quality.

This series has featured none of those attributes, and one shouldn’t expect anything to change for the better part of Game 7 on Sunday. A snapshot of brilliance will emerge here and there, but a game in which Chris Bosh, Jonas Valanciunas, and Hassan Whiteside won’t play — while DeMarre Carroll and Luol Deng soldier on, injured but intent on reaching the East Finals — can only offer so much.

Yet, while you rightly carry low expectations into Game 7, mindful of the reality that sports often fall short of what they promise, maybe — just maybe — this sluggish, plodding series will surprise us.

Say this much for each man who will play meaningful minutes on Sunday: Game 7 — even in this diminished example of the event — still carries the possibility of an immortal moment, something which will be cherished throughout a lifetime. A winner will emerge, a team which can rightly call itself a survivor of the locusts, frogs and hailstorms presented by this series.

It might not be the Game 7 we wanted in the second round of the playoffs, but it’s the Game 7 we have. It won’t cease to be a huge opportunity for the Heat and the Raptors, and all the men who play and coach for them.

One transcendent performance on Sunday won’t eliminate the reality of the six games which have preceded Game 7. However, such a display will allow all the hardships of the past 13 days to decrease in significance and centrality.

That’s a significant prize to play for.

This Game 7 could surprise us.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |