Raptors’ Game 2 response shows what Lowry plus Leonard can equal

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Raptors’ Game 2 response shows what Lowry plus Leonard can equal


Raptors’ Game 2 response shows what Lowry plus Leonard can equal | The Star

They roared for him. Oh, how they roared, affectionate and familiar. They’ve been through a lot together, Raptors fans and Kyle Lowry. They’ve seen some things.

And now, at base camp of the franchise’s hopes and still far from the peak, Lowry was at the free-throw line and made one, just one, and the locals roared. The Toronto point guard was famously scoreless in Game 1 of Toronto’s first-round series with the Orlando Magic, a disappointing loss, and had spent a couple days defending himself and vowing he would be better.

Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is fouled by Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac. Lowry had 22 points in a 111-82 Toronto win.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is fouled by Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac. Lowry had 22 points in a 111-82 Toronto win.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

And he was, and the Raptors were, and in Game 2 they evened the series with a newly ferocious defence, and Kawhi Leonard’s command of a game, and with Pascal Siakam’s eel-like electricity. And they did it with Kyle, back to himself. Raptors 111, Magic 82.

“He was big-time tonight,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “That’s him at his finest tonight. He was charging up the floor, and pushing the ball, passing, shooting, driving, kicking, making steals, hands on everything, rebounding. He was doing it all. That’s a big-time performance for him, really happy for him.”

Leonard towered over this game, but Lowry was its most significant development. Lowry’s greatness never resided in his limbs or his fast-twitch muscles so much as it resides in his heart and butt and brain, and at 33 it hasn’t gotten easier. After the free throw he lined up a three-pointer off a sharp, smart cut, and it went down for his first field goal of the series and the crowd roared again. Finally.

But more, Lowry was present, in that outsized willful way he can be. He snuck to the rim and took a charge and blocked a shot just below the rim. He snuck into the lane with bursts and played give-and-go and tied up seven-footer Nikola Vucevic for a jump ball that Lowry didn’t even contest, because the point of the tie-up was to make the big Magic star wonder when hands might unexpectedly claw at the ball. Lowry’s effort plays are a huge reason he plays bigger than he is.

“Those are game-changing plays,” said guard Danny Green. “That gets us going, as a group.”

Lowry and Leonard have not always meshed this season. Lowry’s best games came when Leonard was being told to rest; in Game 1, Lowry’s passivity meshed with his occasional playoff struggles. He has defended his playoff performance, and justly.

But of all the ways this team is still figuring out its fit, with Marc Gasol in his 28th Raptors game and Siakam rising, and a starting lineup that played its 11th game in Game 2, and the bench still finding its way … well, the Leonard-Lowry partnership is the foundational piece that has never felt truly at home.

In Game 2, it did. Leonard’s ability to create space and deliver precision is truly mesmerizing. You know how sometimes this year it looked like Kawhi was in an individual workout with nine other players on the court, probing for weaknesses, isolating and bullying, polishing his arsenal?

Well, this game was like that, because Leonard was comically precise. He was limited to 16 first-half minutes by foul trouble and finished with 37 points on 22 shots, all delivered with a rhythmic death stare. Quietly, the organization couldn’t wait to see how Leonard would play once the post-season hit. This is why you trade for him, and what he can do.

“Leonard was, I mean, great,” said Orlando coach Steve Clifford. “What are you gonna do, he was great.”

“Some guys are just naturally gifted to be able to do it,” said Green. “Even when they make it look easy, it’s not as easy as he made it look tonight. I’ve never seen him make it look that easy-looking.”

Nothing’s ever that easy for Lowry. And with few Raptors actually scoring — they hit 88 before a player other than Leonard, Lowry, Siakam, Gasol or Serge Ibaka dented the scoresheet — Lowry was needed. It’s been a weird year, with the ups and downs, the back injury, the rolled ankles in March, the trade whispers around the deadline that were quiet and brief, but real.

Lowry picked a good time for the best shared performance with Leonard they’ve delivered so far. He finished with a classic Lowry line: 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, seven assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block and a gaudy plus-minus of plus-30. Only Leonard’s was better.

“I think people got a little crazy about Game 1,” said Siakam. “We all know the type of guy that he is. He does the same work everyday. For me, what I liked was his fight. He was aggressive. He was looking to drive. In the first game, he was more passive and stuff. This game from the jump he had that fire in his eyes — driving, kicking, doing all the good work, drawing charges — and that’s the Kyle we know, for sure. The first game he did the same thing. He just didn’t score.”

“I think just being more aggressive, getting downhill, getting to my spots a lot easier, you know, figuring it out,” said Lowry. “Going back and watching the film I wasn’t as aggressive as I could have been, and tonight was a little bit different, being more aggressive, more assertive, you know, figuring it out. And that was a good game.”

We used to know who the Toronto Raptors were. Every year the question was whether you could really trust the Raptors, and the eventual answer was always no. This edition, though, involves asking a different question entirely. The Raptors were a chameleonic amoeba that won the second-most games in basketball with a lineup that felt patched together on almost every single night, with a coach who spent the year experimenting so much he could have worn a lab coat.

But they are still, right now, figuring out who they are. Three weeks ago, Lowry was asked why he stopped trying to be the hero in the playoffs since the conference final run — he had taken 16 shots in a post-season game once since 2016 — and whether he simply adjusted his ambitions with age.

“Me being older doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Lowry. “It’s all about, I went to the playoffs one year, and then I didn’t make the playoffs for four straight years. So it’s not about me aging; it’s about seizing the opportunity to be in a situation that I’ve never been in before. That’s what it is. Jamal Crawford didn’t make the playoffs for, like, 15 straight years. So you’ve got to cherish those moments.”

This Raptors team is in a race of self-discovery, and self-actualization. For all the versatility, their best guys need to be their best guys, and Kyle Lowry might be the key. He and this city have a lot of history, good and bad. And they roared for him at the start, and again when he was removed from the game at the end. Because he’s still here.

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

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Lowry and Leonard have not always meshed this season. Lowry’s best games came when Leonard was being told to rest; in Game 1, Lowry’s passivity meshed with his occasional playoff struggles. He has defended his playoff performance, and justly.

But of all the ways this team is still figuring out its fit, with Marc Gasol in his 28th Raptors game and Siakam rising, and a starting lineup that played its 11th game in Game 2, and the bench still finding its way … well, the Leonard-Lowry partnership is the foundational piece that has never felt truly at home.

In Game 2, it did. Leonard’s ability to create space and deliver precision is truly mesmerizing. You know how sometimes this year it looked like Kawhi was in an individual workout with nine other players on the court, probing for weaknesses, isolating and bullying, polishing his arsenal?

“},{“type”:”articleRelated”,”display”:”medium-up”},{“type”:”slimcut”},{“type”:”text”,”text”:”

Well, this game was like that, because Leonard was comically precise. He was limited to 16 first-half minutes by foul trouble and finished with 37 points on 22 shots, all delivered with a rhythmic death stare. Quietly, the organization couldn’t wait to see how Leonard would play once the post-season hit. This is why you trade for him, and what he can do.

“Leonard was, I mean, great,” said Orlando coach Steve Clifford. “What are you gonna do, he was great.”

“},{“type”:”ad”,”display”:”small-only”,”pos”:”2″,”sizes”:[[300,250]],”interstitial”:true,”name”:”MobileMiddleBottomArticleBigBox”},{“type”:”text”,”text”:”

“Some guys are just naturally gifted to be able to do it,” said Green. “Even when they make it look easy, it’s not as easy as he made it look tonight. I’ve never seen him make it look that easy-looking.”

Nothing’s ever that easy for Lowry. And with few Raptors actually scoring — they hit 88 before a player other than Leonard, Lowry, Siakam, Gasol or Serge Ibaka dented the scoresheet — Lowry was needed. It’s been a weird year, with the ups and downs, the back injury, the rolled ankles in March, the trade whispers around the deadline that were quiet and brief, but real.

Lowry picked a good time for the best shared performance with Leonard they’ve delivered so far. He finished with a classic Lowry line: 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, seven assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block and a gaudy plus-minus of plus-30. Only Leonard’s was better.

“I think people got a little crazy about Game 1,” said Siakam. “We all know the type of guy that he is. He does the same work everyday. For me, what I liked was his fight. He was aggressive. He was looking to drive. In the first game, he was more passive and stuff. This game from the jump he had that fire in his eyes — driving, kicking, doing all the good work, drawing charges — and that’s the Kyle we know, for sure. The first game he did the same thing. He just didn’t score.”

“I think just being more aggressive, getting downhill, getting to my spots a lot easier, you know, figuring it out,” said Lowry. “Going back and watching the film I wasn’t as aggressive as I could have been, and tonight was a little bit different, being more aggressive, more assertive, you know, figuring it out. And that was a good game.”

We used to know who the Toronto Raptors were. Every year the question was whether you could really trust the Raptors, and the eventual answer was always no. This edition, though, involves asking a different question entirely. The Raptors were a chameleonic amoeba that won the second-most games in basketball with a lineup that felt patched together on almost every single night, with a coach who spent the year experimenting so much he could have worn a lab coat.

But they are still, right now, figuring out who they are. Three weeks ago, Lowry was asked why he stopped trying to be the hero in the playoffs since the conference final run — he had taken 16 shots in a post-season game once since 2016 — and whether he simply adjusted his ambitions with age.

“Me being older doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Lowry. “It’s all about, I went to the playoffs one year, and then I didn’t make the playoffs for four straight years. So it’s not about me aging; it’s about seizing the opportunity to be in a situation that I’ve never been in before. That’s what it is. Jamal Crawford didn’t make the playoffs for, like, 15 straight years. So you’ve got to cherish those moments.”

This Raptors team is in a race of self-discovery, and self-actualization. For all the versatility, their best guys need to be their best guys, and Kyle Lowry might be the key. He and this city have a lot of history, good and bad. And they roared for him at the start, and again when he was removed from the game at the end. Because he’s still here.

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

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