TORONTO -- Two weeks ago, the biggest question facing the Miami Heat entering the playoffs was whether they had enough collective experience and resolve to win on the road.
Two series into the postseason, those doubts are dissipating.
"We've proved through the season that in tough moments, we regroup and play as a team," Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. "I'm proud of our team and how we respond. Everybody responds."
The Heat's latest response left them weary and literally limping out of the Air Canada Centre late Tuesday night, largely because pain was essentially the cost of progress. Heat guard Dwyane Wade confirmed after Miami's 102-96 Game 1 overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors that his left knee is bruised and probably will require treatment Wednesday.
Expect Wade to be joined in a Canadian training room somewhere by center Hassan Whiteside, who initially left in the first half of Tuesday's game after he suffered a strained right knee but returned to play 39 minutes and stumble his way into 17 rebounds. Whiteside wobbled out of the arena with his knee immobilized by a therapeutic wrapping.
The Heat knew they'd feel effects of this one in the morning. But that's what made not allowing Tuesday's opportunity slip away so worthwhile for Miami, which will take a 1-0 lead into Game 2 on Thursday having already shifted control of the series into its hands.
Wade routinely reached beneath the table to massage his knee as he answered questions about how the Heat weathered a half-court heave from Toronto's Kyle Lowry at the regulation buzzer that forced overtime after the Raptors erased a six-point deficit in the last seven seconds of the fourth quarter. But Wade scored seven of his 24 points in overtime and had two steals in the extra period to secure the win.
"That overtime was the most mental toughness we've shown," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "To be able to come back from that, the natural human condition obviously for Lowry to hit that bomb, you have to collect yourself. I would think some of what we went through the last series has helped us with that. You never know. You can't just get to this point and not develop some mental toughness."
Concrete, scientific proof of momentum hardly exists. But it's growing harder these days to convince the Heat that some of the habits and lessons they learned during a brutal seven-game series against Charlotte in the first round hasn't carried over north of the border. Miami has now won three straight playoff games, including two on the road.
Last week, the Heat faced elimination entering Game 6 in Charlotte and got a big boost from Wade in the fourth quarter of a 97-90 victory. Two days later in Miami, the Heat routed the Hornets after getting a breakout performance from Dragic, who shook out of his series-long slump to score 25 points. Another strong game from Dragic, who had 26 points Tuesday, put Miami in position to steal Game 1 in Toronto.
"We know that it's a long series, and it's the first to four," Heat forward Luol Deng said. "We've been in this situation the last series, where we were up two and the team came back and had us on the ropes. We're happy with the win, but we have to come back here and face this team again, again and again."
Heat players have shown the ability to learn from past experiences. It's why they believe the pivotal point of Tuesday's game wasn't the miraculous shot that Lowry made to force overtime. To the Heat, it was the moments that immediately followed as they headed to the huddle before the overtime period.
Dragic and Wade both said that's where Udonis Haslem, who barely played, and Chris Bosh, who is unable to play, took over the huddle and addressed the team for all but a few seconds they left for Spoelstra. Haslem and Bosh, who continues to be at odds with the Heat over his medical condition, saw a group that was deflated but not yet defeated.
"C.B. was huge in that timeout," Dragic said of Bosh. "When [Lowry] hit that shot, most other teams would think it's over. We didn't. We kind of [flipped] the switch and tried to make something positive from that. [Bosh] said, 'OK, it's our first game. We're playing in a hostile environment. We still have five minutes to go, and we're in a good position.' "
The Heat were in a great position for most of the game despite never settling into much of a rhythm. They committed 20 turnovers, including three shot-clock violations in the first half. They missed seven free throws in the second half but made up for that by shooting 8-for-11 from 3-point range.
In other words, it was far from a complete performance for the Heat.
But they were composed.
As a result, the Heat extended their franchise record to 18 consecutive playoff series in which they've won at least one game on the road. They're gradually turning a weakness into strength.
"We had to win this game twice," Wade said. "That was a growing moment for our team. In the first round series, as well as [Tuesday], we learned from our meltdown as a team. We've responded every time we've had one of those moments, and that's what I love about this team."