They couldn't make it easy.
Even after they built up a 20-point first-half lead - their largest advantage in the playoffs thus far - and finally found a bit of rhythm on offense; even after Bismack Biyombo stunted all over the Miami Heat; even after the Heat's first comeback attempt got beaten back and they entered the fourth quarter trailing by 13; even then, the Toronto Raptors had to make things interesting down the stretch.
They bent but didn't break, holding on to beat Miami in Game 5 and move to within a game of their first-ever conference finals berth. Biyombo's energy and interior presence stole the show in the first half, and Kyle Lowry's heroics sealed the win in the game's final minutes. But without the steady, measured performance from DeMar DeRozan in the second half, none of it would've mattered.
It's no secret that these playoffs have been disastrous for DeRozan. He came into Wednesday's game shooting 33 percent from the field and 15.8 percent from 3-point range, his struggles compounded by a right thumb injury suffered on the final play of Game 1 against the Heat. He practically shot the Raptors out of a very winnable Game 4 with a 4-of-17 outing that was somehow worse than that shooting line suggests. Even the free-throw line, typically his saving grace in times of struggle, had turned into a torture chamber. He'd missed 10 of his previous 20 attempts from the stripe coming in.
DeRozan vowed after Game 4 that he wouldn't shoot so poorly again, but he'd done that song and dance before. After shooting 5-of-19 in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers, he said: "I'm pretty sure I won't go 5-of-19 again." He was right. Kind of. In Game 2, he shot 5-of-18.
In Game 5 against the Heat, however, DeRozan really did put his money where his mouth was.
It didn't look like it would happen that way in the first half. DeRozan looked to attack the basket a bit more early on, and got himself to some more favorable spots, but he missed all five of his shots outside the paint, took just one trip to the line, and had to have his thumb wrapped in a shoelace during breaks to keep swelling down.
"It just felt like a blowtorch on my hand," he'd say after the game.
In the second half, that blowtorch set the Heat's net ablaze. DeRozan got many of the same looks he'd gotten in the first half - a lot of clean looks from 15-to-18 feet, and a couple floaters in the lane - but in the second half, everything started to drop, even after he tweaked his thumb and had to temporarily retreat to the locker room.
He drilled a three, just his fourth of the playoffs. He kept seizing opportunities to drive to the hoop, and started getting whistles. He made all his free throws, including six crucial ones in the final 90 seconds after the Heat had cut the lead to a single point. For the half, he shot 8-of-11 from the field and 9-of-9 from the line, mitigating a 4-of-16 half from Lowry.
All told, he finished with a game-high 34 points, matching his personal postseason best, and helping the Raptors get one step closer to franchise history. If they get this DeRozan again in Game 6, they'll be well on their way.
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