TORONTO – If over the course of the last three weeks or so, you had forgotten what the Toronto Raptors have been lacking in a Kyle Lowry, the steadfast, cantankerous point guard, kindly tip after a quick refresher demonstration. -off Sunday night
Playing for only the second time in his team's last 11, a stubborn lower back injury that required a series of pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory injections, Lowry made his mark less than two minutes in, a catch-and-shoot three drilling After a long offensive rebound by Pascal Siakam
A minute later, he stepped in the lane opposite Thaddeus Young – a man listed with seven inches and 25 pounds on Lowry – and all the time during the 14th charge of the season, good for third in the NBA, Lowry's missed.
Ball inbounded, off he went, orchestrating a give-and-go with Siakam that resulted in Lowry finishing down the basket, but not before hesitating for a perfect moment to draw an and-one from the recovering Victor Oladipo Three-point play completed, Lowry raced back to the defensive end where he came down with a rebound and, after the Raptors coughed it up, went diving after a loose ball for his first steal of the night.
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It's a lot, is not it? But what's what Lowry provides, and what the Raptors have been missing since his bothersome back forced him out of action in mid-December.
And, with Kawi Leonard sidelined on the first half of one of the toughest back-to-backs a team will encounter, it was exactly what the Raptors needed as they were dispatched the rest of Indiana Pacers, winners of 13 of 15 coming in, 121- 105. Lowry finished with 12 points and eight assists in a 32-minute shift.
Lowry played all seven first-quarter minutes He was darting all over the place on the offensive end, pacing around the perimeter off the ball, setting picks to help his teammates get switches, and creeping in the paint after shots, looking for ambush rebounds.
On the defensive end, he was constantly talking, guarding with arms stretched out, cheating for steals, trying to push off buckets and turnovers. In the second quarter, he drew another charge, moving into second in the league, only two off the pace. Moments later, he went coast-to-coast in transition off a pacers, scoring a floater from the paint while drawing a foul.
Unsurprisingly, the Raptors are a very good team with Lowry in the lineup, and not only due to the 14 points and 10 assists he's averaging per night. It's all those little things he does His plus-12.2 net rating on the season is second to only Danny Green, who leads the NBA at plus-14 The Raptors have played plus-9.4 basketball with Lowry on the court this season, and minus-1.8 with him off of it. The machine just hums better
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse planned to keep a low breakdown of the rotations, in order to let him find his sea legs and save his life. He also started Lowry withside Fred VanVleet, reprising an effective tandem that played together frequently last season.
Lowry ceded primary ball-handling duties to VanVleet in the early going, opting to work off the ball and from the floor to the perimeter instead of as facilitator But as the game wore on, he started taking over-and-more playmaking responsibility, as he does. Sunday was the 22nd time in 31 games this season that he's dished out eight assists or more.
But the Raptors were going to need more than only Lowry They were going to need a struggling bench unit that has lost in the wilderness for weeks to manage a dramatic reversal of its play.
Saturday night, the bench only contributed only to five of Toronto's 123 points in a determined victory over the then-Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks. All four reserves who saw the floor finish with minus's in the double-figures against Milwaukee, and the group so unreliable that the second half of 19 seconds or more for the nurses forced each of their five starters to play.
It was the most ineffective game Toronto's second unit had all season, so it would have been hard for them to be any worse Sunday. But with Leonard out, Lowry easing back in, and starters Siakam, Green, and VanVleet having carried enormous workloads the night before, Nurse needed his reserves to not only play, but drastically so. Nurse compared the show to be seen from his one Sunday in the one he got from his starters Saturday following a no-show performance against San Antonio a couple night before.
"Our team, the starters anyway, were ready And they did it, "Nurse said before Sunday's game "Now, the bench, they know that. They, immediately after the game last night, were talking among themselves, and have been talking today, that they have got to step up, man They've got to play better, they've got got to play harder They've got to bring it. I'm looking for that today. We're going to need it. "
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Their response? A solid first 24 minutes that saw all four bench players – Norman Powell, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby, and Greg Monroe – finish plus-7 or higher, combining for 25 of Toronto's 70 first-half points.
Lowry deserves some credit for that turnaround, too, as he spent the end of the first quarter and the first half of the second working with the bench unit, trading ball-handling duty with Wright. Powell hit a pair of threes, Wright hit one off a steal of a Pacers inbounds pass, and Monroe was as effective at the Rim as he was in some time, hitting a pair of shots and drawing two shooting fouls.
And yet, the Raptors were playing for a third time, in a third city, against a third plus-.500 team in four nights. An adrenaline dump had to be coming. And it arrived at the third quarter, as the Raptors came out of the dressing room half-sleeping and let the pacers rattle off two quick baskets.
Nurse called a timeout only a minute in the second half, and tore a strip off his team on the bench, standing and yelling at his starters for a good minute before he ever sat down to draw up a play. But things did not improve on the other side, as well. That's when
On consecutive plays, Lowry pulled off his trademark touchdown pass to a sprinting. Siakam for easy buckets at the other end, before stripping Young in the paint after a rebound and finding Serge Ibaka for a wide-open three Lowry made a three of his own on the Raptors' next trip, and suddenly Toronto's lead was back up to a dozen.
It was a perfect breeze Nurse rewarded his bench's strong bounce-back effort with extended fourth-quarter run, leaving his fans out of the final four minutes. That second unit finished with a combined 52 points on 21-of-39 shooting, after going 1-for-15 the night before All four finished double-digit plusses, led by Powell, who scored 23.
But the Lowry was the catalyst for it all. The guy who made the engine It's unclear In between shifts, he would lay flat on the court in front of the Raptors bench, sometimes propping his legs up on a chair, sometimes wrapped in towels to keep his torso warm But when he was on the court, there was no mistaking how is he And just how much the Raptors missed him