TORONTO — Kyle Lowry emerged from the Toronto Raptors’ training room with his right elbow bandaged, wincing as he slipped a shirt over it.
The entire Raptors fan base can feel his pain. It’s only a season that feels like it’s hanging in the balance. Nothing to get carried away about.
"We just drained it. We thought it would calm down over the next few days and wanted to do it when we got home," Lowry said. "Hopefully we get a good reaction from it."
For Raptors fans accustomed to a lifetime of banana peels showing up at exactly the wrong moment, this is like someone saying, "Hopefully the house fire was contained to the third floor."
On Monday night at the Air Canada Centre, the focus was on the Raptors seeking their record-setting 50th regular season win against the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder.
That didn’t work out so well, as the Raptors got a first-hand introduction to what an elite team on a roll looks like.
The Raptors lost 119-100, but that paled in comparison to the possibility that Lowry’s elbow problems — and the accompanying shooting woes — could linger.
"It’s a concern," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey of Lowry’s shooting slump. "But everyone this time of the year is going through something … there’s a reason why his shooting is the way it is."
Lowry’s elbow wasn’t why the Raptors lost — though he did shoot just 4-of-14 — but it could be a factor in a lost Raptors season.
Toronto trailed 15-3 before the game was five minutes old and other than a brief moment early in the second quarter when the Raptors took a 31-30 lead on a Pat Patterson triple, the Thunder rolled over Toronto. OKC’s tandem of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant proved too much for the Raptors, just as they have most of the NBA lately.
But as wonderful as the Raptors’ regular season has been, heading into the playoffs healthy and in position to advance out of the first round for just the second time in 21 years has always been the measuring stick for Toronto.
Everything has been unfolding to plan, for the most part, until Lowry’s shooting elbow began acting up. He’s shooting just 16-of-61 (26 per cent) and 6-of-30 from three (20 per cent) over his past four starts since the problem surfaced. Before that Lowry was shooting 44 per cent from the floor and 39.7 from three, both career bests.
Lowry first began having problems with the elbow when he took a hit in January when Toronto was playing Orlando in London.
Eight days later the elbow has emerged as the primary storyline over the final nine games of the season and a potential obstacle to happiness for the Raptors faithful, who remember all too well what happened last season when a balky back hampered Lowry down the stretch and in the playoffs against Washington.
"I don’t want to make excuses, but it’s definitely something I don’t want to play with and I don’t like playing with," said Lowry. "But it is what it is."
"It just gets you when you can’t extend your elbow the complete way," he said. "But hopefully we’ve got it taken care of and I won’t be playing and shooting as bad as I have been the last three games."
"I don’t think so," Lowry said, when asked if rest would help. "We tried that and it didn’t work. You get hit a few times and it flares up. Hopefully we got it taken care of … hopefully it goes down and I can get back to my normal self."
Yeah, that would be great.
As they proved against OKC, the Raptors don’t have quite the firepower to match up against the NBA’s elite, it always seems, at least not when a team like the Thunder is rounding into form.
You can make the case the two teams have a lot in common, just the scale of their opportunities and challenges are different.
The Raptors are dependent on their two all-stars to finally deliver them beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder are dependent on their two superstars to bring them an NBA championship.
There’s a difference, and the distance between the two sides of the equation was laid bare in front of 19,800 at the ACC. That Lowry was playing with one arm tied behind his back didn’t help.
Should the Raptors and Thunder be in the same conversation, given the similarity of their seasons so far?
"Not yet, no," said Casey before the game. "We haven’t been to the NBA finals, that group has … until we get there, we gotta stay hungry, stay the underdog until we do that."
Casey called the game a "helluva test," and the Raptors seemed like they were over-matched from the opening moments as OKC looked like they were ready to run Toronto out of it’s own building.
But the Raptors are resilient. It’s perhaps their signature characteristic. Just when you think the old ways will drag them down, they prove you wrong.
It’s been happening all season, but on this night the Raptors scrapped back from 12 points down and took the aforementioned short lead in the second quarter before an 11-0 run blunted that hope quickly and the individual brilliance of Westbrook and Durant — as dynamic a pairing as the league has ever seen, it could be argued — put the game out of sight.
The Thunder led by 13 at the half and 23 after three quarters. As the game spun out of the Raptors’ control, the question became what kind of statistical milestones Durant and Westbrook might hang on the Raptors. Westbrook ended up with his 16th triple-double of the season — 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — as he continues to roar through the NBA at supersonic speeds.
Durant? An off shooting night maybe, as he was 11-of-27 from the field, but his 34-8-8 line accurately reflected the truth: the Raptors, like the NBA in general, have no answer for the 6-foot-11 forward who shoots it better than almost everyone in the league not named Steph Curry.
The Raptors all-stars weren’t at the same level as the Thunder’s superstars, but then, who is, really?
DeRozan was 8-of-22 for 19 points; Lowry 4-of-14 for 14 points, he also made four turnovers.
There were bright spots. Rookie Norman Powell scored a career-high 18 points, his third straight in double figures, and Patterson continued his hot shooting off the bench — he’s now 14-of-20 from the floor since he missed two games with an ankle injury.
But those numbers don’t matter after being blown out at home. And 50 wins, when the Raptors get there, won’t matter all that much either as nice a milestone as it will be.
All that matters for a team like OKC is what they can get done in June. All that matters for a team like the Raptors is what condition Lowry’s shooting elbow is in come mid-April.