Miami was dealt a massive blow in game three when their starting center Hassan Whiteside went down with a knee injury. Whiteside, who is Miami’s leading rebounder and shot-blocker, missed games four and five and has recently been declared ineligible for game six in Miami.
This injury compounded the already gaping hole that was the Chris Bosh blood clot. All Erik Spoelstra had to replace Bosh and Whiteside were the aging Udonis Haslem and Amar’e Stoudemire, two players who are well past their prime. So the Heat adapted, they decided to play a small-ball lineup. Playing a primary lineup of Luol Deng at the center position aside Justise Winslow, Joe Johnson, Dwyande Wade and Goran Dragic. Using this very small lineup Miami could attack the rim off of the dribble, creating drive and kick situations.
The main reason for this lineups incredible success in game four was the defensive versatility of a player like Justice Winslow. The rookie out of Duke University had the unpleasant duty of guarding all five positions at some point. The most impressive display of defensive toughness and fortitude was his late game defense on Raptors guard Cory Joseph. The Toronto Raptors were stunned by the swarming defense that the smaller Heat lineup applied; their defense was helped by Toronto’s isolation base offense. This also allowed the Heat to stop Toronto from running the floor, as they now had to mobile athletes to stop the ball at the three point line, thus slowing down the game.
While Toronto is also capable of going small with a two guard lineup of Corey Joseph, Kyle Lowry, Demar Derozan, Demarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson, it was largely ineffective. When Miami does go small, they still boast a couple of hefty athletes. Joe Johnson is a formidable 240 pounds, while Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow and Luol Deng are 225 pounds each. This strength causes huge match-up problems for the Toronto Raptors.
Carroll is clearly the best defender on Toronto, but he is a slight 210 pounds, so when forced to guard Joe Johnson he was continuously out-muscled in the post where Johnson used a series of floaters and hook shots to dominate the game.
In game four, Toronto tried to play big with Bismack Biyombo starting the game, yet inexplicably, Dwane Casey subbed off the towering athletic rim protector in favour of the aforementioned small lineup. This despite Biyombo having a plus 11 when on the floor, by far the highest plus/minus of all the Raptors. This allowed Miami to continuously dominate the paint over a very slight Toronto team.
Thankfully for Raptors fans, Casey saw the error of his ways and played Biyombo extended minutes in game five, with only the versatile Patrick Patterson playing more minutes. Biyombo’s numbers are not mind-boggling. If someone were to look at the box score they would be unimpressed with his game five. However it was clear that the Heat had no answer for the big man who was a force in the paint, changing shot after shot and forcing a small Heat team to shoot more jumpers. In Game Six there is no need for Dwayne Casey to match the Miami Heat small ball, turn the new fad on its head and get bigger, force the Heat to adapt to Toronto’s size.