When I think center, I think of a big guy around the 7-foot height range with big broad shoulders and long arms. Last night, the center I saw was 6’7, but had the broad shoulders to go with the smaller frame. Obviously I am describing Justise Winslow, the Heat rookie who had been a wing player the entire season.It was a bold move by Spoelstra, but having Winslow at center may have finally solved the Raptors defense.
Let’s start with some stats though. Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade combined for 52 points and both were getting to the rim at will all night. Dragic had perhaps his best game as a pro and was matching Kyle Lowry shot-for-shot throughout en route to a playoff career-high 30. Wade was the closer yet again with 8 points in the fourth quarter including an elbow jumper to put the Heat up by 8 with a few minutes to go. Josh McRoberts chipped in with 10 points and Joe Johnson had 13. Luol Deng had only 2 points, but played some great defense on Demar DeRozan throughout the game.
So why was the Winslow move so crucial? The Raptors had made it a priority to keep Miami out of the paint. They did so by defending Miami’s pick & roll game with a hard hedge on the ball handler to force a pass rather than a drive. To make things even harder, they would force the pass back to the top of the key rather than to the wing. If any Heat player got around the hedge, there was a Raptor big waiting in the paint for them. Spoelstra countered this by putting the versatile Winslow down low to help space the floor. This now gave heat ball-handlers 1-on-1 matchups that they have been craving all series. With Winslow a threat to cut underneath, Bismack Biyombo was somewhat neutralized as a shot-blocker and the Heat’s move away from a pick & roll for every play, the Raptors hedging plan went out the window.
It was an all-around great game from Miami, which was also highlighted by the Heat taking care of the ball and having only 7 turnovers. Toronto had forced almost 15 per game in the first five games, but the Heat’s ability to squeeze the orange took away a lot of transition hoops for the Raptors.
Game 7 will be tomorrow afternoon in Toronto to decide who goes on to the Eastern Conference Finals!