While more drama and hijinks were being reported in Toronto’s political circus, a frantic fourth quarter inside Air Canada Centre was saved by the man who has become the heart and soul of the Raptors.
Lowry, dubbed by some as “The Bulldog of Bay Street,” was at his best on Wednesday night. Behind a post-season career-high 36 points, he willed his Raptors to a 115-113 win and a 3-2 series lead against the Nets.
“When we needed a big shot, No. 7 came through,” said teammate Chuck Hayes. “Kyle was unbelievable. He’s doing it at the right time on the biggest stage.”
The stage was set in the first half. Lowry’s running and leaning 3-ball that beat the buzzer to end the first half gave Toronto a commanding 18-point lead at the break. He entered halftime with 21 points (on 7-for-10 shooting) and no turnovers. In the biggest game of the season, Lowry had his team on his shoulders.
“He’s just super-competitive,” said Hayes. “We need an answer, we call Kyle Lowry. Kyle will figure it out.”
The Raptors’ lead got as high as 26 points in the third quarter and the hometown crowd was enjoying the party. But when the fourth quarter rolled around, in spite of a 22-point lead, all hell suddenly broke loose.
With Lowry on the bench, Brooklyn finally woke up and started to cut into Toronto’s lead. In less than five minutes the Nets had sliced the Raptors lead in half and Dwane Casey was forced to bring his starting point guard back into the game.
“He is great,” Coach Casey said of Lowry. “He did a great job (and) led us. But this game tonight, we have got to learn from it because there are so many learning experiences from tonight’s game. Having the lead, withstanding prosperity (and) embracing pressure.”
One could argue that Toronto has handled pressure well in this series. Though squandering a 22-point lead in the final quarter is not going to earn you a ton of credit, the Raptors have won all three of their games in this series by making more plays and getting more stops in the dying minutes and moments. The experience of the veteran-laden Nets has not been the factor that many believed it would be. In fact, in Game 5 – while Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were busy combining for 18 of Toronto’s 24 points in the fourth – Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett sat and watched the drama unfold. Neither player, championship rings and all, saw a single second in the frenetic frame.
With the game tied at 106 – with 1:23 remaining – Lowry nailed a 25-footer to put the Raptors up three. And after Brooklyn cut Toronto’s lead back to one, Lowry pushed his team ahead by three yet again courtesy of a running hook from about five feet.
“Those five points let us win,” said teammate Jonas Valanciunas. “They kept us breathing.”
The final thirty seconds were still filled with nail-biting moments and vapour-lock mistakes by Toronto, but the team never relinquished the lead that Lowry played a part in providing.
“He’s a tough player,” said Nets coach Jason Kidd. “He’s a guy that plays 48 minutes extremely hard. He’s never going to stop playing and tonight he made some big plays and made some big shots down the stretch.”
Lowry is going to become a rich man this summer. Whether he signs with the Raptors or opts to head elsewhere, the free agent guard has turned in a career year. And he hasn’t skipped a beat on the biggest stage in the post-season either.
“He’s the captain,” said teammate Terrence Ross. “Everybody looks up to him.”