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Game Centre: Raptors rally to handle the Heat on Boxing Day

A composed finish earned the Toronto Raptors a 106-104 Boxing Day win at the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

The Raptors came back from a 17-point deficit for the victory, and without the injured Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas in the lineup.

The Heat’s Hassan Whiteside, middle, drives to the basket against the defence of Raptors’ Serge Ibaka and OG Annunoby during play Boxing Day in Miami. The Raptors won, 106-104.
The Heat’s Hassan Whiteside, middle, drives to the basket against the defence of Raptors’ Serge Ibaka and OG Annunoby during play Boxing Day in Miami. The Raptors won, 106-104.  (Pedro Portal / TNS)

Toronto was back in the game by late in the third quarter but a 6-0 run for the Heat with less than four minutes to play challenged the visitors, who were clearly upset with a number of missed holding calls on Kawhi Leonard and a non-call on a block by James Johnson on Pascal Siakam.

But Toronto didn’t let their frustrations get the best of them. A three from Fred VanVleet, a drive and one from Siakam, two free throws and a jumper from Leonard and wide open corner three from Danny Green was enough to leave Toronto in the driver’s seat by game’s end.

The Raptors, now a league-best 26-10, snapped Miami’s five-game win streak.

  • Whiteside Wonderland: Serge Ibaka got a rude awakening after three games out with knee soreness in the form of Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside helped Miami pound the Raptors in the paint early on, a can’t-miss moment when he drove at Ibaka around the five-minute mark and pulled off a Siakam-like spin move before dunking on Toronto’s starting centre.

Whiteside also impacted Miami’s defence by going into the half with three blocks of his own to two for the Raptors’ whole team. He got a hand to the ball as Siakam went up for a layup, and denied Ibaka twice on the same possession. He finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

  • Chipping away: It was Leonard who lead the way point-wise as the Raptors came back, putting up 12 points in the third quarter with one three, a couple drives and some battles under the rim to get the fouls. He got some help from VanVleet, who had three threes, Green and Norm Powell, whose end-of-shot-clock bucket was Toronto’s six threes on nine attempts in the quarter.

But it was a zone defence that steadied Toronto on the other end of the court, one that coach Nick Nurse has touted of late as a promising work in progress.

Leonard finished with a game-high 30, while Green, VanVleet and Siakam chipped in 10 or more.

  • Break time: Siakam, Powell, Greg Monroe, Delon Wright and OG Anunoby put in some important minutes to start the fourth quarter, giving the starter a much-needed break until they returned for the final six minutes down by one. It was a crucial rest in a game that would go down to a wire for a team that’s still trying to ward off some bumps and bruises.
  • Ho Ho No: Dwyane Wade reportedly told media in Florida on Wednesday that only one thing about Toronto’s start to this NBA season has surprised him: the fact that the top team in the NBA didn’t get a game in the spotlight a day earlier.

“I just don’t understand why they don’t have a Christmas game,” he said, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

The Raptors have only played on Dec. 25 once before, a 102-94 loss to the New York Knicks in 2001.

  • Up next: The Raptors will stay in The Sunshine State for another couple days, and visit the Orlando Magic on Friday at 7 p.m.

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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