LOS ANGELES, May 16, (AFP): Kyle Lowry scored 35 points as the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff series victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday, sending the Canadian franchise to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in their history.
Lowry and teammate DeMar DeRozan stole the show as Toronto completed a 116-89 victory to win the best-of-seven series 4-3 and set up a conference championship showdown with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lowry had nine assists and seven rebounds while DeRozan finished with 28 points and eight rebounds as Toronto pulled clear of Miami convincingly after a close-fought first half.
Congolese center Bismack Biyomobo also had a big game for Toronto, scoring 17 points, snaffling 16 rebounds and blocking to shots to delight the home crowd at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade led the scoring for the Heat with 16 points apiece.
Justise Winslow finished with 14 points, Joe Johnson had 13 and Luol Deng 12.
The Raptors had led 25-24 after an even first quarter, with DeRozan scoring 11 points. Toronto built a 53-47 lead at half-time but the real damage was done in a dominant run in the third quarter.
The Raptors poured on the points in a 12-2 burst, stretching their lead to 75-58.
Miami rallied to get within six points as the seconds wound down in the third, but a two-pointer on the buzzer by DeRozan restored Toronto to an eight-point lead heading into the final quarter.
With a first-ever place in the Eastern Conference finals beckoning, the Raptors turned the screw and quickly extended their lead with both Lowry and DeRozan outstanding.
Two Biyombo free throws powered Toronto into a 106-86 lead with just under five minutes left, leaving no way back for Miami.
Game one of the Eastern Conference Finals takes place in Cleveland on Tuesday.
Toronto will start against Cleveland with the odds stacked against them.
The Raptors have been through two marathon seven-game series to reach the conference finals while Cleveland will head into the series well rested after clinching back-to-back 4-0 sweeps in the previous rounds.
However, Toronto will face the Cavs buoyed by the knowledge they had a 2-1 winning record over Cleveland during the regular season.
Lowry said he is looking forward to pitting his wits against the in-form James and the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to playing against those guys,” Lowry said after Sunday’s win.
“LeBron is one of the best players in the league, Kyrie (Irving) is always a tough matchup, Kevin Love is always a tough matchup. But we’re going to go out there and play our game, try and do our job and see what happens.”
Lowry, meanwhile, was satisfied that he had been able to turn around a protracted slump in form to lead the Raptors into the conference finals.
“I had great people supporting me throughout my struggles,” Lowry said. “They just kept pushing me, and kept telling me to do what I can do and see what happens.”