The Raptors could not handle the Heat last night, in more ways than one.
In one of the worst gag jobs of the season, the Raps collapsed in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, losing to the visiting Miami Heat 98-94 in front of 19,973 stunned and frustrated fans at the Air Canada Centre.
Toronto led for almost the entire game, by as many as 14 points late in the third quarter.
But Miami's all-world guard, Dwyane Wade, took over in the fourth, scoring 16 points, while the Raptors collected eight fouls, shot 35% from the field and went 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. Wade finished the game with 37 points.
"I think some of the young guys need to understand who Dwyane Wade is and what he can do," said a frustrated Toronto coach Sam Mitchell. "Even before I got to the NBA, I knew what Magic Johnson could do. I watched TV."
The Raptors were without forward Chris Bosh, who is out indefinitely with a sprained left thumb, while the Heat were without their two big men, Shaquille O'Neal, who suffered a hyper-extended left knee in the morning shootaround, and Alonzo Mourning, out with a torn right calf.
Despite that, the Heat managed to out-rebound Toronto 51-39 and outscored the home side in the paint by a 48-46 margin.
Toronto led by nine heading into the final 12 minutes of play, but slowly let the game get away as the result of poor shooting, not paying enough attention to Wade, not passing the ball enough, and too many offensive fouls.
Miami, fighting for playoff position in the Eastern Conference standings, refused to let Toronto deliver the knockout punch and their experience and discipline came to the fore late in the game.
"We're coming down hitting baskets and celebrating, and they come down and hit three-pointers while we're not getting back on defence," said Toronto's Morris Peterson, who had a big game offensively with 28 points.
"We can't have that."
A sense of impending doom settled over the ACC as the final few minutes ticked off. Wade charged to the basket with just more than three minutes left, lost the ball, managed to pick it up, and scored on a layup.
In the process, he was fouled by Eric Williams and scored on the free throw, giving Miami its first lead (88-87) since the first quarter.
A minute later, Peterson made a weak pass to Mike James and the ball was stolen by Gary Payton, who charged down the court for a layup and a 90-89 Miami lead with 1:28 left. After Williams made three free throws to tie the game at 92-92 with 45 seconds left, Wade drew yet another foul, this one on Charlie Villanueva, and sank both to put Miami ahead by two with 30 seconds remaining on the clock.
James had a double-double four minutes into the third quarter, finishing the game with 19 points and 12 assists.
For the Heat, the comeback was nothing new. It has come back from double-digit deficits numerous times this season.
"That's a playoff team, so when you have your foot on their neck, you have to keep your foot on their neck," James said.
Villanueva, coming off a career-high 48 point night in Milwaukee against the Bucks on Sunday, brought the crowd to its feet in the first quarter with a monster slam from a James setup, but picked up a technical foul for swinging on the rim.
The rookie forward also picked up his ninth double-double of the season, and sixth since the all-star game last month, with 13 points and 13 rebounds, despite the fact that he shot 4-for-15 from the field.
Centre Antoine Walker had 18 points and 10 boards for the Heat, while forward Udonis Haslem picked up15 points and 13 rebounds.