The Toronto Raptors have thrived all season despite a revolving door of injured players, and their depth shone once again in Sunday night’s record-breaking rout of Brooklyn.
But the Raptors want Kyle Lowry on the floor when they face the Boston Celtics on Thursday.
"It would hurt us a lot," coach Nick Nurse said of the possibility of playing without Lowry. "You guys know how big a cog he is to this whole thing. He’s our most experienced, toughest leader we got."
Lowry was diagnosed with a left ankle sprain Monday after undergoing an MRI. The six-time all-star suffered the injury when he stepped on the foot of Chris Chiozza late in the first quarter of Sunday’s 150-122 series-clinching victory over the Nets.
The Raptors said they would update Lowry’s status when appropriate; for now, he’s a question mark ahead of Toronto’s second-round series against Boston that tips off on Thursday.
A sprain sounds more positive than Nurse’s suggestion Sunday night that Lowry injured the arch of his foot. But depending on the severity, sprains can take anywhere from days to weeks to heal.
Boston is missing Gordon Hayward who suffered a right ankle sprain in Game 1 against Philadelphia. Hayward left the bubble to continue his rehab and is expected to be out for at least the entire second round.
Dallas superstar Luka Doncic, on the other hand, sprained his ankle in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, but bounced back with a spectacular game Sunday, recording 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists. Doncic hit the long step-back jumper at the buzzer to lead the Mavericks to a 135-133 overtime win.
Lowry sprained an ankle in the 2017 playoffs and sat out Games 3 and 4 of a four-game sweep by Cleveland in the conference semifinals.
The 34-year-old played through a serious hand injury, however, in last year’s historic championship run. Lowry damaged ligaments in his left thumb in the conference semis but didn’t miss a game. He was forced to wear a compression glove resembling a huge oven mitt while not playing, and underwent surgery soon after the season ended.
"I would imagine this: It’s going to be a helluva injury to keep him off the floor," Nurse said. "It’s not going to be a little thing, he’s going to try to figure it out."
While the Celtics, who won three of four meetings against Toronto this season, are expected to be a considerably tougher opponent than Brooklyn, particularly if Lowry’s not in the lineup, the Raptors have dealt with adversity all season.
The Raptors lost NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in the off-season. Their 219 man games lost to injury, before the restart in Florida, was fifth worst in the league. Each of their top five scorers missed at least 10 games. Lowry missed 14, and the team went 12-2 in his absence.
Their motto has been: next man up. And the bench stepped up in record fashion Sunday, scoring 100 points, the most in any game since those stats began being tracked in the 1970-71. Toronto’s 150 points was a franchise record.
Norman Powell, who led the way with 29 points, said playing without Lowry would be "tough."
"He’s our leader. He’s our focal point when we are out there, on and off the court," Powell said. "Hopefully, with these days off, he’s able to recover and get back out there and play because we are going to need him. But it’s like we always say: It’s going to be next man up with everyone pulling for one another."
While the Raptors (53-19) and Celtics (48-24), who were ousted by Milwaukee in five games in last year’s conference semifinals, know each other well, they’ve never met in the post-season.
"It is a little surprising we’ve never bumped into each other this whole run," Nurse said. "They’re super–talented, they’re deep, they’re very well coached, they’re playing great at the moment. They put away a very talented Philly team with ease (in a four-game sweep)."
Toronto’s one loss since the restart was a 122-100 rout by Boston on Aug. 7.
"We know (the Celtics) are a great team," said Raptors big man Serge Ibaka. "They don’t get a lot of talk but they are a great team … they play hard, and they play as a team. They have a good bench, so we need to come in and play basketball, man."
Boston won three of four meetings against the Raptors in the regular season, including a victory in Toronto on Christmas. The Raptors avenged that loss in Boston three days later.
"I think it’s going to be fun," Powell said about facing Boston. "It’s always back and forth. They beat us and then we come back at them. We are evenly matched teams. It’s going to be about the guys who can play harder, who can limit their mistakes and then go out there and execute. I’m kind of bummed that we are not going to have the fans down there at TD Garden or what our fans bring at Scotiabank (Arena)… that is an added element that is going to be missed."
Lowry averaged 19.4 points, a team-high 7.5 assists and five rebounds through 58 games with Toronto this season. Through the first round of the playoffs, he posted averages of 12.5 points, 4.8 assists and 7.0 rebounds and scored in double figures three times, including 21 points in Game 2 of the opening-round series.
Semifinal games will be held every second day with Game 2 going on Saturday.