MIAMI -- These days, Toronto Raptors director of sports science Alex McKechnie keeps a red shoelace in his pocket at all times.
The Raptors wouldn’t be one win away from their first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference finals without it.
During stoppages of play in Game 5, McKechnie treated guard DeMar DeRozan's injured right thumb by wrapping a red shoelace around it.
The seemingly unorthodox treatment worked wonders. DeRozan tied his playoff career-high with 34 points, allowing the Raptors to take a 3-2 lead against the Miami Heat in their second-round playoff series.
"Once he takes it off, I can move my finger. I try to do it as much as possible. It hurts like hell, but I like that it helps." DeMar DeRozan on the red shoelace
"It’s not the first time I’ve done it. I’ve done it many, many times," McKechnie said at the team’s morning shootaround Friday before Game 6 at American Airlines Arena.
"I think the first thing to understand is that the process is actually a very traditional way of treating injured fingers. It’s used to create pressure and compression. You start very firm and you actually release pressure as you go through (wrapping it). Once it’s completely covered in the string of the shoelace you mobilize the joint so you actually get tissue drainage and mobilization and you get immediate recovery in range (of movement)."
The inflammation comes back, however, so McKechnie must continue to repeat the process throughout the game.
DeRozan has been dealing with the injury since he sustained it at the end of Game 1.
"Once he takes it off, I can move my finger," DeRozan said. "I try to do it as much as possible. It hurts like hell, but I like that it helps."
Asked how his finger felt on Friday morning, DeRozan responded: "It’s the same. Honestly, every day I try not to think about it. The only thing that’s going to help it is time, and right now we don’t have too much time."
The Raptors are 7-5 in the postseason. In their wins, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, DeRozan is averaging 24 points and 1.3 turnovers on 37.7 percent shooting. In their losses, he’s averaging 12.2 points and 3.6 turnovers on 29.2 percent shooting.
Typically, Toronto doesn’t handle prosperity very well. The Raptors were blown out in Game 6 of their first-round series against Indiana before coming back home to win a do-or-die Game 7.
"We should be desperate," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "I mean, our franchise hasn’t accomplished anything. The Heat have won championships. They’ve been there before. So we are trying to get where they are and achieve that level of excellence they’ve achieved. We should be a hungry team. We should be a desperate team, because we haven’t won a championship yet. There’s no reason we shouldn’t come out desperate and hungry to start the game and end the game."
With Jonas Valanciunas (sprained right ankle) out for the series and DeMarre Carroll (left wrist contusion) questionable but expected to play, according to his teammates, the Raptors are once again going to need big performances from DeRozan and backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, who has been extremely valuable throughout the postseason.
Lowry is a plus-51 for the playoffs. His team is a minus-seven. In the 6 1/2 minutes he sat in Game 5, the Raptors were outscored 23-6.
"I can play 48 minutes if I need to. I can play whatever you need of me," Lowry said. "At this point of the season, I don’t care. My body is made for this. I trained for this situation, to be out there if I have to play the whole 48."
A trip to Round 3 would be significant for the franchise.
"We are not there yet. We [have] a big one tonight, but I think our program is growing," Casey said. "I think everyone got ahead of ourselves expecting it, but I thought our guys grew at the right rate as the season went on. We are where we are supposed to be right now."