Scottie Barnes' career night pushes Raptors to much-needed win over Heat

The Eastern Conference's playoff picture continues to hang in the balance as the Raptors make a late-season push.

Scottie Barnes left his imprint on a short-handed Miami Heat squad as the Toronto Raptors came away with a 106-92 win on Tuesday in a pivotal game.

The reigning Rookie of the Year impacted all facets of the matchup, finishing with 22 points (10-16 shooting), seven rebounds, three steals and a career-high 12 assists with zero turnovers. Barnes credited his ability to use his height to his advantage, especially when he was picking apart the Heat's defence from the top of the key against a zone and double-team schemes.

When he wasn’t “wheeling and dealing,” as head coach Nick Nurse said post-game, Barnes also found his way to the rim for some impressive slams, which included a put-back over a pair of Heat defenders.

“I had a good lane … I don’t think I used all 40 [inches] ... that was probably 35,” said Barnes, continuing an in-season joke around his athletic vertical leap.

The win improved the Raptors (38-38) to a .500 record for the first time since early December, as they picked up the victory against a squad that was without its best player in Jimmy Butler.

It kept the Raptors in the ninth seed in the East, since the Atlanta Hawks also won their Tuesday matchup, but did knock down the seventh-seeded Heat to only two games ahead of Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings.

“We need every single one of these games,” said Barnes, as the Raptors have six matchups remaining in the season to improve their ranking.

TORONTO, ON - March 28   In first half action, the Raptors Scottie Barnes goes up for a jam.
The Toronto Raptors took on the Miami Heat in NBA basketball action at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
March 28 2023        (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Scottie Barnes was on a mission to give the Raptors a boost when nothing else seemed to be going their way to start. (Credit: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Barnes was the Raptors’ only consistent offensive threat to start the night, as he put up 12 of Toronto’s 24 points in the opening frame. Come the second quarter, he started finding his teammates and gathered all 12 of his assists from that point on.

“I've always said that if you're a pass-first guy and you want to pass, you're gonna have to score some, so that they have to put two or more on the ball and then you'll be able to pass,” said Nurse.

Barnes’ vision helped create looks at the rim, especially with the Raptors struggling from deep. They finished the first half shooting 1-of-16 from 3-point range, and ended up with a 22 percent clip for the game.

“He had a really good energetic game, had his head up and was moving with the ball,” said Nurse. “Very good job with his vision tonight on finding guys for easy buckets, setting guys up.”

The sophomore wing led the way for the Raptors’ passing, but three other players in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and O.G. Anunoby also chipped in with at least five assists. Together, the Raptors tied a season-high with 32 dimes.

While Siakam benefited from the passing, he found his rhythm through a flurry of moves in the third quarter, where he scored 12 of his 26 points, to go along with nine boards. Anunoby finished the matchup with 22 points on 9-14 shooting, while he was also instumental alongside Barnes in picking apart the Heat in the interior.

Off the bench, Nurse credited Precious Achiuwa for his “huge lift,” as he always seems to provide a spurt of energy when going against his former team in the Heat. The 6-foot-9 centre played as the Raptors’ sixth man, and along with nine rebounds, he converted a pair of pivotal 3-pointers and some big slams.

Besides shooting guard Tyler Herro, who notched a game-high 33 points, the Heat really had no answer against what turned into a crippling defence from the Raptors, especially in the third quarter when they pulled away by as much as 19.

Excluding Herro, Miami shot 32 percent from the field and 17 percent from long distance.

“We did a pretty good job communicating,” said Nurse, noting the challenges the Heat pose with a lot of slip outs to go along with their speed.

“We did a good job of keeping track of it most of the time … I just felt like we had a lot of possessions where they were really searching for a shot, and I mean they'd get one but it would be pretty tough at the end of it.”

The win capped off a 3-1 homestand for the Raptors, as they beat a team that included their former face of the franchise in Kyle Lowry, who Siakam called an “older brother.”

Each victory holds more weight, as the Raptors try to secure the best possible seeding for the play-in tournament.

With six games remaining, if the Raptors finish the regular season as the seventh or eighth seed, they’d just need to win one game in the play-in to enter the playoffs and start a seven-game series. As the ninth or 10th seed, they’d need to win two games — but if they were to lose their first game in that scenario, they’d be knocked out in do-or-die fashion.

They’ll play their next five games on the road, starting with the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, before their season finale back at Scotiabank Arena on April 9.

“I think we have a lot to improve on and I think that we want to continue to get better,” said Siakam.

“All these games are super important … we do believe in ourselves and at the end of the day, like always, I’ll put the chips on us against anybody.”