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How defense, Martin, pair of Robinsons led short-handed Heat past Raptors. Plus more takeaways

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 112-103 win over the Toronto Raptors (9-12) on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena. After the quick single-game trip, the Heat (12-9) now returns to Miami for a quick one-game stop at home on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers:

The Heat’s defense has not been good in recent games. But the Heat’s defense was excellent down the stretch in Toronto.

The Heat was without Bam Adebayo (left hip contusion), Tyler Herro (right ankle sprain), Haywood Highsmith (lower back contusion), R.J. Hampton (right knee sprain), Dru Smith (right ACL injury) and Cole Swider (G League) against the Raptors.

That long injury list includes three members of the Heat’s preferred starting lineup: Adebayo, Herro and Highsmith.

The injury-depleted Heat still found a way to earn a win against a middling Raptors team behind a strong second-half defensive effort.

The Heat’s defense was the catalyst behind the victory after a rough defensive showing in a wild first half that was dominated by the two offenses. The Heat and Raptors combined for 18 made threes, 40 assists and just five turnovers in the first two quarters.

But after exploding for 66 points on 53.5 percent shooting from the field and 8-of-16 (50 percent) shooting from three-point range in the first half, the Raptors were limited to just 37 points on 14-of-43 (32.6 percent) shooting from the field and 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) shooting on threes in the second half. Toronto also committed 11 turnovers in the final two quarters.

“Certainly much better,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s defense in Wednesday’s second half. “I think any head coach would like to see that against a very talented, aggressive offensive team, holding them to under 40 points in that second half. I don’t know what the percentage was, but there were much better efforts. More commitment to do hard things.”

The Heat entered the fourth quarter ahead by just three points, and totaled 25 points on 40.9 percent shooting from the field and 2-of-9 (22.2 percent) shooting from behind the arc in the final period.

The Heat survived those underwhelming shooting numbers because it held the Raptors to just 19 points on 29.6 percent shooting from the field and 3-of-11 (27.3 percent) shooting from three-point range in the fourth quarter.

The game-deciding spurt came after the Raptors tied the score at 87 with 9:41 left. The Heat responded with a quick 10-0 run to pull ahead by 10 points with 7:11 remaining and never looked back.

The Raptors missed all three of their shots and committed one turnover during that critical 2:30 stretch in the fourth quarter.

“We got stops and we got out in the open floor and made some shots,” Heat star Jimmy Butler said. “So whenever we do that, basketball looks good.”

After allowing 125.1 points per 100 possessions in the previous three games during its worst three-game defensive stretch in recent memory, the Heat bounced back to post a defensive rating of 105.1 points allowed per 100 possessions in Wednesday’s win that would rank first in the NBA among teams for the season.

Five Heat players finished the victory with double-digit points led by Caleb Martin, who recorded a season-high 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 shooting from three-point range to go with a regular-season career-high 12 rebounds in 31 minutes. It marked just the sixth time in Martin’s NBA career that he has scored 24 or more points in a game.

Duncan Robinson added 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field and 3-of-10 shooting on threes, six rebounds and tied a career-high with seven assists while completing his first dunk since the 2020-21 season in the win. He scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Butler totaled 19 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, 1-of-1 shooting on threes and 4-of-5 shooting from the foul line, two rebounds, eight assists and one steal.

And Orlando Robinson, in his second straight start at center for the injured Adebayo, recorded the first double-double of his NBA career with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, 2-of-3 shooting on threes and 3-of-3 shooting from the foul line to go with a career-high 12 rebounds. He also finished with four assists, three steals and one block.

“He gets better each month and you saw that tonight,” Spoelstra said of Robinson, who went undrafted last year out of Fresno State. “He had a lot of big plays. The rebounding down the stretch, his defensive detail work was really good.”

Jaime Jaquez Jr. contributed 15 points off the bench.

“Without Bam and Tyler, we got to find ways and other people to generate points,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “Duncan had a great game. But we find ways to get runs and our defense is one of the best in the league. Once we get the lead, then we kind of bank on our defense.”

Pascal Siakam scored a game-high 30 points for the Raptors.

Injuries slowed Martin to begin the season, but it appears that he’s finally feeling like himself again.

After missing most of the preseason and 10 straight games early in the regular season because of left knee tendinosis, Martin has looked more like the version of himself lately who became one of the Heat’s most important players during the team’s run to the NBA Finals last season.

Even before Wednesday’s 24-point performance, Martin was trending in a positive direction in the last two weeks.

After averaging just 5.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while shooting 30.6 percent from the field and 5 of 18 (27.8 percent) from three-point range in his first five games after returning from injury, he has averaged 18.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 9 of 20 (45 percent) on threes in his last five games.

“You can see why he is always one of our biggest X factors because he brings a lot of things that you can’t necessarily scheme against,” Spoelstra said of Martin.

Wednesday’s display wasn’t just Martin’s best of the season, it also included one of the best halves of his NBA career.

Martin totaled 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc during the first half of the Heat’s win in Toronto. It marked the most points that he has scored in any single half during his NBA career.

“We have a lot of guys who draw a lot of attention, so I just ended up being in the right spot at the right time,” Martin said.

Injury issues continue to force the Heat to use different starting lineups.

Down three starters, the Heat used its league-leading 14th different starting lineup in the 21st game of the season. The Heat began Wednesday’s win with a lineup of Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Butler, Martin and Orlando Robinson.

Martin has been a consistent member of the bench rotation, but he made his first start of the season with so many of the usual starters unavailable.

Orlando Robinson has been out of the rotation for most of the season, appearing in just seven of the Heat’s first 21 games. But he made his second straight start in place of Adebayo, the Heat’s injured starting center, allowing Kevin Love to remain in his usual role of backup center.

And Duncan Robinson, who began the season as a reserve, has started in 11 straight appearances for the injured Herro.

The Lowry-Duncan Robinson-Butler-Martin-Orlando Robinson combination had played just 10 minutes together prior to opening Wednesday’s game.

But this new Heat starting lineup began Wednesday’s contest strong, opening the game on a 22-7 run before Miami made its first substitution of the night.

This five-man unit also set a positive tone to start the second half, opening the third quarter on a 16-2 run before Miami turned to its bench.

At the end of the night, the Heat’s 14th different starting lineup of the season outscored the Raptors by 28 points in 13 minutes together.

The Heat used 26 different starting lineups last season. At this current pace, the Heat will surpass that number midway through this season.

The Heat’s injury issues also continue to create opportunities for others who would otherwise not be in the rotation ... like second-year forward Nikola Jovic.

The Heat’s bench rotation on Wednesday included Jaquez, Love, Josh Richardson and Jovic. Jaquez, Love and Richardson have been consistent members of the Heat’s bench attack, but Jovic has been out of the rotation.

Jovic played in just his fourth NBA game of the season, finishing Wednesday’s win with zero points and two rebounds in limited minutes. His only stint of the night came in the second quarter and it lasted 3:18.

The 20-year-old Jovic, who the Heat drafted with the 27th overall pick last year, committed two fouls during his three minutes on the court Wednesday.

But for Jovic, even his three-minute outing was meaningful after receiving 11 DNP-CDs (did not play, coach’s decision) over the Heat’s first 21 games this season.

“Niko had a couple good moments,” Spoelstra said when asked about the decision to play Jovic on Wednesday. “His rebounding, his size, I felt that we might have needed a little bit more size for just a small stretch and potentially a little bit of playmaking. We didn’t necessarily have to get to that. But he’s had two very good weeks and that makes an impression on everybody. That’s all behind the scenes in practices.”

The only available Heat players who did not play in Wednesday’s game were Thomas Bryant and Jamal Cain. Injuries left Miami with only 11 available players against the Raptors.

Toronto still loves Lowry.

Wednesday marked the fourth game that Lowry has played in Toronto since leaving the Raptors. With the win, he improved to 2-2 in those games against his former team in his former NBA home.

Lowry closed the victory with three points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 28 minutes.

Lowry, who spent nine consecutive seasons in Toronto before joining the Heat as a free agent in the summer of 2021, is considered one of the greatest players in Raptors history. He was a key part of the Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors team that won the NBA championship in 2019.

And even though Lowry is in his third season with the Heat, he remains beloved in Toronto. Lowry received a loud ovation from the Scotiabank Arena crowd when he was introduced as a starter before the game.