“I think this group is hungry,” Casey said of his team. “Never say never.”
Casey declined to say whether center Jonas Valanciunas, who sprained his right ankle in Game 3 against the Heat, would be available against Cleveland.
“He’s still limping around, but he’s doing therapy 24/7, so we’ll see,” Casey said.
Less than an hour after the game, scouting booklets for the Cleveland series were sitting on the locker room chair of each Raptors player.
“We know we’ve got a tough task ahead,” Lowry said. “It’s always a challenge going against those guys.”
Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic each scored 16 points for the Heat. Miami was denied the opportunity to renew acquaintances with former teammate James in the conference finals.
Elliott also raced Kenseth clean for the few laps he challenged, before he lost momentum with Larson passing him late in the race to make another charge at Kenseth.
“We had our shot, we had a chance to do it today,” Elliott said. “I didn’t do it. It’s as simple as that. Either you do or you don’t, and we haven’t yet.”
Larson did have contact with Carl Edwards, another one of the top cars, as they battled for second with 40 laps left in the race, leaving the Edwards car in crumpled heap.
“I don’t think he meant to do it, but it surprised me,” Edwards said.
Kenseth also was surprised, but just at how he was able to make clean air his best friend as he held off Larson. He cleared lapped traffic with ease. He kept young, aggressive drivers from beating him, either teaching them some lessons on how to race Sunday or having his past (who can forget last year with him and Joey Logano?) teach them all they need to know about perceived right and wrong on the track.
His No. 20 team might have learned some lessons, too, over the first 11 races of 2016 where they watched their Joe Gibbs Racing teammates celebrate while having to wonder what could have been. They had finished 2015 on a sour note with Kenseth’s two-race suspension and hadn’t won in their previous 19 starts prior to Sunday.
“It’s a character builder, that’s for sure,” Kenseth crew chief Jason Ratcliff said. “It will test your patience. … The core group that’s on the 20 team, most of them, if not all of them, have been in this sport for a long time. They understand.
“They thrive on how well we perform each week, not necessarily where we finish. But eventually, you know, that wears on you.”
That should make this win for Kenseth among the most sweet.
“To have what happened to Matt at Daytona, to see the way he handled that, he and Jason, I think that says a lot about him because you could easily be upset about that,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “But Matt’s had a great attitude through everything.
“I think he does appreciate good cars, having a great crew chief. … For Matt to hang in there, he and Jason, the whole team, the 20 team, finally get a win, is just a huge deal.”
If you want to keep a scorecard of the bad blood between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers and where everything fits into the nebulous world of the baseball code, it goes something like this:
Jose Bautista: Excessive bat flip and stare-down after mammoth, series-turning home run off Sam Dyson in last year’s playoffs. Code ruling: Violation! At least under the old-school version of “Play the game the right way.” Of course, you have to ignore that it came in a huge moment, gave the Blue Jays the lead in front of a jazzed-up home crowd that hadn’t seen the Blue Jays win a playoff series in 22 years and went absolutely bonkers, and that the ball was crushed all the way to Manitoba. The code says baseball players must play without emotion, less you show up the other team.
Matt Bush: Appears to throw intentionally at Bautista, hitting him in the elbow and ribs with a 96-mph fastball. Code ruling: Violation! Wait … why would this be a violation, wouldn’t this be the Rangers simply exacting retaliation on Bautista, which is fair game under the code? Maybe at first glance. But the Blue Jays seemed upset at the timing of Bush’s inside fastball in that it came in Bautista’s final at-bat in the final meeting between the teams this season. Bautista called it “cowardly.” Josh Donaldson called it “the easy way out.” Jays manager John Gibbons said it was “gutless.”
That was Wade’s final take on a season in which the Heat pushed through devastating injuries, adversity and multiple rotation makeovers. They won 48 games, claimed the No. 3 seed and advanced past the first round of the playoffs — a year after sinking into the lottery following James’ 2014 return to Cleveland.
In other words, despite how brutally the ending came in Game 7 against the Raptors, the Heat maxed out their season. They lost to the higher-seeded Raptors, who won a franchise-record 56 games in the regular season to clinch the No. 2 seed in the East. In the opening round of the playoffs, the Heat enjoyed the benefit of home-court advantage and won a seven-game series against Charlotte.
This time, the Raptors won in seven with the decisive game in Toronto. And by the end, the depleted Heat were both overwhelmed and overcome by the bodies they didn’t have available. Miami got through the second half of the season without Chris Bosh, but the absence of the perennial All-Star to a medical condition that has sidelined him since February never allowed this team to reach its full potential.