LOS ANGELES: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra hailed his team’s mental strength on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) after they overcame a determined Toronto Raptors fightback to claim a 102-96 overtime victory.
Miami held their nerve to prevail and claim a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series after Toronto had raised home fans hopes of a pulsating victory at the Air Canada Centre.
Kyle Lowry sunk a stunning buzzer-beating three-pointer from 39 feet with the final play of regulation time to put Toronto level at 90-90 and force overtime.
But Miami roared back to break the Raptors resistance, swiftly rattling off eight unanswered points to silence the crowd and take a 98-90 lead.
Toronto were given a glimmer of hope trailing at 99-96 but DeMar DeRozan was unable to get a shot off and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade snaffled to score a two-pointer and put the game out of reach.
Spoelstra was purring with the way his side responded in overtime after Lowry’s potentially game-changing buzzer-beater.
“Kyle Lowry’s three, as soon as it left his hands, I think everyone in the building kind of had an idea that would go,” Spoelstra said. “From that point on, I was extremely proud of the group.
“To get knocked down on the canvas like that, the air punctured out of your body, to show the mental resolve to come back and take control of overtime — that’s great mental toughness that I think we showed from there.”
Goran Dragic had a game-high 26 points for Miami.
Wade finished with 24 points, six rebounds and four assists while Joe Johnson added 16 points and seven rebounds.
For Toronto Jonas Valanciunas scored a team-high 24 points and 14 rebounds while DeRozan added 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. Terrence Ross scored 19 points off the bench.
Lowry’s game-tying three-pointer aside, the Raptors star had a disappointing game, finishing with only seven points.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey is adamant the Toronto talisman can come good.
“Even though he didn’t shoot the ball well, he was effective down the stretch,” Casey said. “He got stuff done. I thought his bulldog tenacity set the tone for us defensively. We know he’s not shooting the ball well, he’s not making plays with shots that he normally makes.
“Just like a hitter [in baseball], hitters go through slumps. He’s there, but we have to believe in him, we do believe in him, and he’s going to come out of it.”
DeRozan echoed Casey’s confidence in Lowry.
“I tell him all the time, good or bad, I have the utmost confidence in him,” he said.
“I don’t care if you miss 15 shots, I’m going to stand behind him just like if he’s making 15 shots in a row. He’ll come around.”
Game two takes place on Thursday (Friday in Manila).