Of all the takeaways in the hours and days since the Toronto Raptors‘ Game 1 home loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday — Kawhi Leonard‘s paltry 33 minutes of floor time, D.J. Augustin’s heroic performance, Pascal Siakam‘s big night — it’s hard to look past Kyle Lowry‘s no-show.
The five-time all-star infamously went scoreless, failing to hit a single shot in seven attempts and earning the dubious distinction of becoming the highest-paid player to put up zeros on the scoreboard in post-season history.
The performance was a letdown, to put it nicely. Entering the most pivotal playoff run in franchise history — one in which, on paper, the Raptors have their best opportunity to reach an NBA Finals since the team’s inception — you’d expect a big night from one of Toronto’s go-to stars.
But those focusing on Lowry’s point total in the wake of the disappointing loss are missing the bigger picture. At least that’s what Magic head coach Steve Clifford says.
“If you had time to study the game, he had a terrific game,” Clifford told reporters on Monday as the Magic practised at Scotiabank Arena. “Not good. He was terrific.”
Your first reaction may be: “Of course Orlando’s coach likes what he saw from Lowry,” given that the point guard’s missed shots helped seal the Magic’s upset win. But Clifford maintains that Lowry’s defensive impact and his ability to help facilitate ball-movement for the Raptors played a crucial role on the team mounting a second-quarter comeback and having a chance to win the game.
“They were plus-11 or 12 when he was on the court. He put a ton of pressure [on us],” the coach continued. “He’s the one that starts their transition — all those advance passes up the court to Siakam. That’s all him.”
Despite the poor shooting, Lowry led the Raptors with a plus-11 rating in the 104-101 loss, the only starter with a positive plus-minus. Backup Fred VanVleet, who was locked in from deep, hitting three of his six three-point attempts, was ironically a team-worst minus-16.
Lowry also did manage eight assists on the night, just shy of the 8.7 per game he averaged during the regular season, but it wasn’t enough to mask his 0-for-7 shooting — especially given that one or two made-threes could have made the difference between winning and losing.
But Clifford, like the rest of us, doesn’t expect Lowry to remain that ice-cold as the series progresses.
“He’ll make them,” he said. “Listen, he’s one of the great competitors in our league, and he played really well. He didn’t make any shots, but when you have the time to just sit and watch, he played a very good game…If he can play that game every playoff game and make two or three of those, then he’s great. His impact on the game was terrific for them,” he continued. “He’s a problem on both ends of the floor.”
It’s certainly what the Raptors expect from Lowry, one of the team’s most important players and one who, as Clifford alludes to, can make his mark in a number of ways that don’t involve shooting the ball.
But his threat as a shooter — particularly from deep — opens up the floor for his teammates and can help turn the Raptors’ offence from effective to lethal. And the size and physicality of Orlando’s defence creates an opportunity — or need, depending on how you look at it — to do damage from deep. It’s no coincidence the Raptors came out of the gates shooting, attempting 21 three-pointers in the first half on Saturday.
“I’ve got to take some of the responsibility for this, too,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters on Monday. “I thought we had Kyle in a really good place all the last half of the season … and obviously he wasn’t in a good enough place to impact the scoreboard. I’ve gotta do everything I can to help him succeed.”
Game 2 tips-off Tuesday night in Toronto.