Dwyane Wade's doing his best to redeem an ugly Raptors-Heat series

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  • Dwyane Wade
    Dwyane Wade

After Monday's Game 4 between the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade said, "This is playoff basketball at its best." That is ... well, it's not true.

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This, more accurately, is playoff basketball at its most brutal and weird. It's a sneering variation of the form in which All-Stars can't shoot, small-ball lineups can't score, overtime can't guarantee 100 points, and potential game-icers die on the vine because the ball's sick of this, too, man:

Given what we just witnessed in the other second-round series out East, none of this sloggin' feels like it's likely to amount to much:

Sure, it's been close — after four games, three of which have gone to OT, just five points have separated Miami (379) and Toronto (374) — and it's been hard-fought, with both teams scrapping for every inch.

"At times, teams are able to get to their game, and a lot of times, they're not, and that's because of the competition," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "And because the margin of error is so small, you just have to find a way to make plays, more plays at the end."

But "playoff basketball at its best?" That's a hard sell ... except for the play of the guy who turned the phrase.

Wade was awesome again on Monday, scoring a game-high 30 points on 13-for-24 shooting with four rebounds, two assists and two steals to lead the Heat to a 94-87 overtime win that knotted up this Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.

While Wade continued to carry the Heat offense, his All-Star Raptors counterparts, point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, once again struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket.

After seeming to break loose with 29 second-half points in Toronto's Game 3 win, Lowry went right back to the shooting woes that have defined his postseason, scoring just 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting. DeRozan clearly remains hampered by the injury he sustained to his right thumb on the final play of Game 1, managing just nine points on 4-for-17 shooting and often looking exceedingly uncomfortable on the court.

The shooting guard has seemed at times unwilling to pursue contact for fear of going to the free-throw line — he's now shooting just 53.8 percent from the stripe in this series — and unable to either consistently convert the pull-up jumpers he's preferring or cash in on his forays into the paint.

"It is what it is," DeRozan said after the game. "It's something I've got to deal with. Complaining or making excuses for it won't help. It's just something I've got to deal with."

The dynamic duo that helped lead Toronto to the best season in franchise history continues to be roundly outperformed by Miami's 34-year-old one-man army:

And yet, DeRozan just kept firing and clanging, eventually forcing Raptors head coach Dwane Casey to sit him down. Lowry, at least, contributed in other areas of the game, dishing nine assists, pulling down seven rebounds and snaring four steals in his 32 minutes of floor time. But he couldn't contribute anything over the final seven minutes of Game 4, after fouling out with 1:58 remaining in the fourth quarter for grabbing Heat defender Justise Winslow's jersey on a spin move.

"I can't be in foul trouble," Lowry said. "I think I let my team down tonight. I'll take the loss for us on this one, because me not being on the floor hurt our team."

Especially because losing Lowry prompted Casey to reinsert DeRozan, who had been on the bench from the 3:09 mark of the third quarter until 1:38 remaining in the fourth. During that stretch, lineups led by Lowry, floor-spacing forward Patrick Patterson, and reserves Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph built a nine-point lead midway through the fourth and fought off a Miami charge led by Wade and Goran Dragic, with the Raps up 83-79 after a Joseph jumper with 1:30 left.

"We kind of ran out of bodies once Kyle went out," Casey said. "We left him out as long as we could, but we had to try to get him back in. We were running out of bodies. Running out of matchups."

One body he got away from: Biyombo, who started for the injured Jonas Valanciunas, announced his presence with authority, and rolled up 13 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes, but played just 22 seconds of the final seven minutes of the game. During that span, Miami scored eight points in the paint and outrebounded Toronto 5-3, including two big offensive rebounds. Despite going small with Patterson at the five and DeMarre Carroll at power forward, the Raptors struggled to generate offense, too.

While the Raptors settled for jumpers late, unable to penetrate into the paint against a small-ball, switch-everything Heat defense featuring Winslow and Luol Deng at the four and five spots, Miami attacked the rim, capped by a loping, graceful Wade finger roll that tied the game at 83 with 12.6 ticks left. Toronto's attempt at a winner (which didn't seem too popular a design in huddle) amounted to nothing, thanks in part to Wade sniffing out an action aimed at getting Ross a catch-and-shoot look off a Patterson pindown, and we went to overtime for the third time in four games.

As was the case in Game 1, Miami's vets imposed their will in the extra session. Joe Johnson made some surprisingly key defensive plays, notching two blocks and a steal in the first two minutes of OT before canning a fadeaway jumper that put the Heat up four. Toronto would keep plugging away, but a strong drive by Dragic followed by a Wade steal and dunk sealed the deal. The seven-game set now turns into a best-of-three, with Game 5 coming in Toronto on Wednesday.

The Raptors did what they'd hoped to do in their trip to South Florida: regain home-court advantage. But they led by nine in the fourth quarter and they lost, because their stars couldn't make the contributions of their role players stand up.

"When our two top players don't shoot the ball as well [and] we had some tough turnovers down the stretch ... yeah, I felt like we let it slip away," Casey said.

Instead of heading home with a chance to move on to the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, they return for another Pivotal Game 5™, hoping again that this time, their stars will answer the call.

"I know for sure I'm not going to shoot like I did tonight next game," DeRozan said. "I know that for a fact."

Given what we've seen, though, that proclamation seems a lot shakier than the one made by the one star in this series consistently playing like it.

"I'm as confident as I've been all season right now," Wade said.

In a decidedly unsexy series between two closely matched teams, that self-belief, and the beautiful moments it can still bring to life, is one hell of a difference-maker.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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