TORONTO — After Kyle Lowry retires from playing, he’ll come back to Scotiabank Arena to be properly celebrated as the greatest Toronto Raptor of all time.
There will plenty of moments to choose from for the video montage as No. 7 is lifted to the rafters — the first to be retired in the history of the franchise. His house-on-fire start to Game 6 of the NBA Finals when he stepped on the floor at Oracle Arena and made sure everyone knew the Raptors were going to win the NBA championship that night will be in there. His 35-point, nine assist outing in Game 7 against the Miami Heat that clinched the Raptors’ first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. The game-winning two he hit over Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers that same season to give Lowry a career-high 43 points and the Raptors a win over LeBron James and the Cavs on national television.
Just the charges taken could take half an hour.
There could be an art-house version set to classical opera and run in slow motion of Lowry working the refs on all the wrong calls — which is every call. His palms turned up to the heavens, his eyes enlarged, shocked that he’s been wronged again — that could be a weekend marathon.
Will the statue unveiling be before or after the jersey goes up? I don’t know.
Good problems to have.
But when the time comes, what Lowry did on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, must be included. It will have to be part of his story. If anyone is trying to explain how a franchise that was for most of its history a laughingstock became the first team to win an NBA title without a single lottery pick on the roster, just show them video of Toronto’s 110-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks, a game they never should have won.
They won it because of Lowry — and not just because he scored 23 of his game-high 32 points in the final 14 minutes with the Raptors down by 30. The Raptors set a record for the largest comeback in franchise history and had the largest comeback in any NBA game in a decade because, in the 984th game of his 14-year NBA career, Lowry did what he’s done his whole life.
He didn’t follow the script. He did what seemed impossible because he’s always done that. It’s a habit.
Kids from single-parent homes in North Philadelphia aren’t supposed to go to elite schools like Villanova. Six-foot point guards who tear their ACL before they even begin their college careers aren’t supposed to get drafted as sophomores. Late first-round picks that get traded three times in their first five NBA seasons aren’t supposed to become franchise players. And players labelled as difficult and hard-to-coach aren’t supposed to become icons, lead teams to NBA titles and get their jersey retired.
So, coming back from down 30 against the Mavericks?
Not so crazy, in context. But still, pretty crazy.
No one overcomes 30-point leads in the last 14 minutes of a game because on a long 82-game season the script calls for a few minutes of spirited effort, followed by a minimal push-back by the winning team and then about eight minutes of bench-clearing garbage time.
Lowry doesn’t follow direction that way.
"I just go out there and do my job as hard as I can," Lowry said after the game. "If coach would have pulled me, he’d pull me. Until then just go out there and work as hard as possible.
"[In the fourth it was] ‘Just go play. We were just like, ‘look we’re going to try’. [Raptors head coach Nick Nurse] threw us the press and everyone just said, alright let’s do it."
They did it. And while Lowry was determined to spread the credit around as he helped engineer what ended up being a franchise-record 47-point fourth quarter while helping keep the Mavericks – the NBA’s best offence – to just 21 points as part of a 55-22 closing run that began with his triple with 2:03 to play in the third quarter, it wasn’t going to happen without him.
Lowry was on the floor with Chris Boucher, an undrafted free agent, trying to find his NBA niche; Malcolm Miller, an undrafted free agent trying even harder to find his niche; Terence Davis II, an undrafted free agent in his rookie season and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a scrappy, undersized power-forward on a one-year deal who has had to rely on injuries to earn his way into Nurse’s rotation.
It was nice that Lowry made a point of recognizing them post-game and everything, but they knew what was up. The Raptors were without Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norm Powell (shoulder). They were up against it from the tip and then the bottom fell out.
But Lowry didn’t cave and wouldn’t let his teammates either as the Raptors reeled off their fifth straight win to improve to 21-8 and avenge an earlier loss to the Mavericks, who fell to 19-10.
"Man it was amazing. I’ve known Kyle since I was a kid, him being from North Philly and me being 20 minutes from there," said Hollis-Jefferson who grew up in Chester, PA., and who scored 10 of his 18 points during the Raptors’ comeback run. "It was like ‘that’s the guy that made it from the area.’ A hero you know?
"So to see him do that [in person] was extremely phenomenal."
Hollis-Jefferson sensed something special was on tap early as Lowry hit the triple late in the third that finally stopped a Mavericks onslaught that had seen the visitors out-score the Raptors 35-21 in the quarter. Hollis-Jefferson played for Brooklyn when they came down from 27 to win last season, so he had some reason to be optimistic.
"I don’t know about everyone else but when Kyle made a three on the right wing I had like a vibe or a feeling that I was in that same Brooklyn situation," he said. "I kind of had that vision for Kyle taking off and that’s what happened."
Nurse helped the cause by junking up the Raptors defence and confusing the Mavericks who were playing without superstar guard Luca Doncic. Suddenly the Raptors were trapping the length of the floor like it was a high school game except the top of the press was being manned by Boucher, a six-foot-nine spider with sprinter’s speed, and chaos-maker Hollis-Jefferson flying around at the back, looking for steals as Lowry was directing traffic.
The Mavericks turned it over three times in the first 3:15 of the fourth quarter and the Raptors leveraged that into a 17-7 run featuring triples by Lowry, Davis and a three-point shooting foul on Davis. The crowd was starting to believe. Then Lowry hit a step-back three from 26 feet and in the space of six minutes Toronto had cut the Dallas lead to 10 with 8:05 to play.
At that point the crowd was fully invested, however improbably.
"It was one of the craziest games I’ve been into," said Boucher, sounding like a fan even though he finished with a career-high 21 points in 24 minutes off the bench. "Even right now I’m just realizing we were down  and what we had to do come back."
"I’m definitely going to go watch the game again and see how exciting this game was and how the fans helped us so much, just by cheering with us," he added. "We could feel it down on the court, how much they wanted us to win this game. It was probably one of the best games I’ve been to, for real."
The Raptors finally pulled even when Davis hit Hollis-Jefferson for a lay-up with 5:30 to play. Lowry’s fourth triple gave Toronto a four-point lead with 3:40 to play. His fifth put the Raptors up five with 3:05 left.
It was the Raptors’ game to lose now.
"All [Kyle] said was ‘keep pushing’. He led us the right way, put us in great spots," said Boucher. "Kyle does that every time. Even when people don’t see it. Kyle’s a great leader. That’s why our coach put us with him, he knows he’s going to put us in good position and he’s going to play hard. It’s always good to have someone like that on your team."
The lead didn’t last. Inevitably the Raptors ran out of gas and every shot Lowry took stopped going in. The Mavericks re-took the lead on a pair of Kristaps Porzingis free throws with 32.2 seconds to play.
The Raptors didn’t have any timeouts. They didn’t need any. Lowry ran the ball straight ahead, eventually finding Boucher who sliced through traffic and rose high for a slam with 25.8 seconds left that put the Raptors up for good.
It was Boucher’s finish, but it was all Lowry.
"I’m surprised he saw me," said Boucher. "I was just running for the offensive rebound and he saw me coming through."
"It was a great step-up [screen] by Rondae, Rondae was setting it up the whole time," said Lowry. "He said ‘Listen, I’m going to step up to half court [and get you going to the basket]"
Problem: Waiting at the basket was Porzingis, all seven-foot-three of him, one of the best shot-blockers in the NBA.
Solution: Dish the ball and then keep moving into the Mavericks big man so he wouldn’t be able to defend Boucher at the rim.
"I knew KP was one of the best shot blockers there are out there, I seen Chris the whole time and once I got KP to commit [to defending the ball] then I kind of dumped it off and kind of ran through KP [taking him out of the play] and Chris did the rest."
The Raptors were able to force one more miss by the Mavericks, Boucher grabbed the rebound and sealed the comeback win with a pair of free throws with 1.6 seconds left. A last-second Dallas heave missed.
When did Lowry think the Raptors could win?
"When they threw that last shot and he missed," said Lowry. "Honestly, that was one game you just can’t take anything for granted because we used so much energy to get there. You just have to hold until that last buzzer goes off and once the ball went sailing right it was like, ‘Wow, that was a fun game.’
A game like no other, thanks to Santa Kyle.
At the jersey retirement ceremony make sure to make room for the Christmas Miracle.