At 30 years old, in his tenth NBA season, Kyle Lowry is having a career year. He is averaging career highs in points, steals, blocks, rebounds, and three-point shooting percentage. Lowry is the reason the Raptors set a franchise record in wins this year, and are poised to make a run at the Finals. But there was one particular night that encompassed Lowry’s emergence into the NBA’s elite.
On February 26th, the Cavaliers traveled up to Toronto in a matchup that featured the East’s top two teams. This game would be the tiebreaker between the teams, which was vital because Cleveland only had a two-game lead. So what did Lowry do? He put the team on his back.
Cleveland jumped out to an early lead and stayed on top for virtually the whole game. In the second half, the Cavs led by as much as 14, and were up 91-82 with just over four minutes left. At that point, Lowry had scored 31 points and had collected a handful of assists. But he was just warming up.
Toronto went on a 9-0 run in the next 1:30 that was fully fueled by Lowry. He scored five of those points, set up teammates for the other four points, and even took a charge. But with 67 seconds left, Cleveland reclaimed a two-point lead.
At this point, the Cavs were making offense-defense substitutions to ensure that Lowry would be guarded by either Matthew Dellavedova or Iman Shumpert, both solid defenders. It did not matter, as Lowry bullied Dellavedova into the restricted area with 51 seconds remaining, making a short floater.
This tied the game at 97, and after J.R. Smith missed a three, it was Toronto’s ball with 27 seconds to play. Lowry milked the clock, then hit a step-back 23-foot jumper with Dellavedova all over him. He left 3 seconds on the clock for LeBron James, who air-balled a potential game-winning three.
Lowry made every shot he took in the fourth quarter, producing 16 points. He scored or assisted on 15 of Toronto’s final 17 points. His final stat line was a career-high 43 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals. When he was asked about his performance, he answered humbly.
“The bigger deal is that we won the game,” he said. “That’s all that matters. I think we grew tonight, but we’ve got the team to get better.”
Lowry drastically downplayed his efforts. He attributed the victory to the whole Raptors team, but he outscored the rest of his starting lineup by 24. The starters not named Lowry ended the game with a +/- of -16. The team as a whole (with the exception of Lowry) shot a combined 22 of 53 from the field. The All-Star point guard played 43 minutes, yet looked his freshest during the final sequences.
Throughout the game, Lowry remained efficient. Rather than settling for contested jump shots or threes, he attacked any defender that was in front of him. He attempted 9 shots from inside the restricted area, connecting on 8 of them. He was 15 for 20 from the field, and earned 15 free-throws. He took care of the ball with only two turnovers despite his immense usage.
Lowry’s 4th Quarter
- 11:04 Lowry three 77-71 Cavs
- 10:47 Lowry steal
- 10:29 Lowry assist 77-74 Cavs
- 9:29 Lowry technical foul shot 79-75 Cavs
- 8:05 Lowry free throw 84-77 Cavs
- 4:33 Lowry pull-up 91-84 Cavs
- 3:59 Lowry fadeaway 91-86 Cavs
- 3:59 Lowry jumpshot 91-87 Cavs
- 3:34 Lowry assist 91-89 Cavs
- 3;14 Lowry rebound
- 2:26 Lowry assist 93-92 Raptors
- 1:55 Lowry free throws 95-92 Raptors
- 0:52 Lowry hook shot 97-97
- 0:03 Lowry pull up 99-97 Raptors
Fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan usually lights up the scoreboard, as he is averaging 24 points per game. However, due to flu-like symptoms, he shot just 1-11, scoring 6 points. Toronto heavily relies on their exceptional backcourt for offensive production, so DeRozan’s ineffectiveness put more pressure on Lowry to deliver in a big matchup.
Lowry recognized that Cleveland struggles to defend perimeter ball screens, and exploited that weakness. Time after time, he beat his defender on a quick first step and simply took what the defense gave him. If other Cavs came over and helped, Lowry would dish to the open man. If the help was late, he finished on his own. Bismack Biyombo benefitted from multiple dunks because of Lowry’s penetration.
Despite the heavy minutes and substantial energy exerted on offense, Lowry had a productive defensive game as well. He had four steals against a team that allows the fifth fewest steals per game. He limited Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving to 10 points and 1 assist in 31 minutes.
The Cavs and Raptors have the top two seeds in the East locked up, and are the alpha dogs in the conference. Toronto won the season series 2-1, but these teams could meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals. First, the Raptors will have to win two playoff series, something the franchise has never done before.
If Lowry continues to rise to the occasion as he did on February 26th, the Raptors will continue making franchise history this spring.
photo via llananba