Raptors’ Lowry started 2019 playoffs with a dud, then silenced doubters


Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) drives around Orlando Magic's Khem Birch (24). (John Raoux/AP)

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What do you first think of when the name Kyle Lowry pops up?

Heart? Hustle? Leadership? Charges taken? An indomitable will to win?

These are all suitable ways to remember Kyle Lowry, but most prevalently, the easiest way to describe him now is probably as the greatest player in Toronto Raptors franchise history.

No one has more all-star appearances in a Raptors uniform than Lowry and no player in Raptors history has impacted winning more than Lowry has.

It wasn’t so long ago, however, that there were serious question marks floating around Lowry’s ability to “get the job done,” with the idea of him being the best player in franchise history as borderline laughable.

In fact, you need look no further than April 13 of last year to find proof of how little faith some had in Lowry, when he struggled mightily in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the Orlando Magic.

That game, which you can check out Friday on Sportsnet and Sportnet ONE at 8:00 p.m. ET, was supposed to cement the Raptors as a legitimate playoff threat. There was no way they were going to drop a Game 1 – again – after all. Not with a roster that boasted Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol, added to the existing core to put them over the top for a championship, right?

Well, about that…

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Despite solid performances from Leonard, Green and Gasol, in addition to Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, Lowry had arguably the worst performance of his professional career. He shot 0-for-7 from the field — including 0-for-6 from three-point range — for zero points (although, he did grab seven rebounds and drop eight dimes) as the Raptors fell to the Magic, 104-101.

Making matters even worse was Lowry’s point guard counter-part and, for some strange reason, notable Raptors killer over the years, D.J. Augustin, who had one of the best games of his NBA career. He scored 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including 4-of-5 from deep, with 19 of his points points coming in the first half on perfect 3-for-3 shooting from outside.

As a result, the fallout from this turned into a perfect storm for some old, tired narratives about Lowry to rear their ugly head again about him possibly being a playoff choker.

Remember, heading into the 2019 playoffs, Lowry didn’t have the most sterling reputation as a playoff performer, averaging only 15.3 points and 5.4 assists per game on while shooting 41.2 per cent from the field and 34 per cent from three-point range in 62 post-season contests.

It also doesn’t help that coming into the Orlando series the most recent image of Lowry in the playoffs was him putting up just five points on 2-for7 shooting as he and the Raptors got swept away, again, by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018.

As such, the concern about Lowry’s play was near fever pitch among fans and pundits alike, and confidence around him and, by proxy, the team as a whole to get the job done in a satisfying manner was extremely low heading into Game 2.

Which is why what ended up happening afterward is that much sweeter.

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While his performance got overshadowed by Leonard’s massive 37-point effort, Lowry still finished Game 2 with 22 points and seven assists, shooting 8-of-13 from the field as part of a huge 29-point victory over Orlando to kick off four-straight Raptors wins and clinch the series in just five games.

This all allowed Raptors fans to breathe a big sigh of relief that everything was going to be alright with the team and with Lowry, who ended up averaging not much more scoring-wise than his usual playoff average the rest of the way (15.7 points), but shot with much-improved efficiency (45 per cent from the floor, 37.4 per cent from deep).

Sure, throughout the playoff run Lowry stumbled a bit, but he never folded and, in fact, saved his very best for last when he scored 26 points and dropped 10 dimes in the championship clinching Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors. This included 15 points in the first quarter, as it was clear Lowry wasn’t going to let the title slip from his fingers that June evening in Oakland.

That was the moment, in many people’s minds, that cemented Lowry’s G.O.A.T. status with the Raptors and dispelled the notion that he’s a guy who can’t win the big one.

And knowing now how it all ends, watching Lowry build a brick house when you see how it all began Friday night will surely bring out a few chuckles.

Let’s all enjoy Augustin tear up the Raptors for one more night before the real fun begins.

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