Lowry Continues Late Game Dominance & Team Leadership

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

On January 5, with the fourth quarter underway and a home victory on the line, Kyle Lowry calmly cranked the intensity dial up. Like, all the way up. Just as he has done so many times before, and just as he had done only two weeks prior to the same Utah Jazz team, Lowry exploded for a 16-point fourth quarter to close out the game and secure a come-from-behind win against the Jazz for his Toronto Raptors. It was a truly brilliant fourth quarter effort for Lowry: 16 points, 5-for-6 field goals, 2-for-2 three-point field goals, 4-for-5 free throws, three rebounds, two assists, three steals, zero turnovers, 12 minutes played.

It probably did not get the appreciation it deserved because Lowry had overshadowed his own performance with the 19-point fourth quarter against the Jazz two weeks earlier and then a 20-point fourth quarter against the Lakers on the same six-game road trip. In all three instances, Toronto needed every point that Lowry put on the board.

Since coming to the Raptors in 2012, Lowry has emerged as one of the best point guards in the league. He is fiery and strong willed on the court, absolutely relentless in his competitiveness and he thrives under pressure. All traits that are easily visible when watching him play. His ability to read the game and almost always have the correct feel for when to defer or set up teammates and when — as well as how — to take over is perhaps as impressive as his ability to read and anticipate a play two steps before it happens.

When Lowry came to the Raptors, an opportunity was waiting for him. After years of being a backup point guard and then searching for his place in the league, Lowry embraced that opportunity, his own game flourishing first with added responsibility and later with earned trust from the coaching staff.

“My first couple of years in the league, I was always a back-up point guard so I came into [the game] trying to change the game,” Lowry said. “Now I know I'm going to get my shot. I know I can shoot when I want. I know I'm going to have the ball. It’s about seeing what the team needs at that time.”

Despite the matter-of-fact disposition from Lowry when describing his approach to the game, it can be exhilarating and mind-boggling and entirely magical all at the same time watching him do so many things that positively affect the outcome of the game. There is no denying how important Lowry is to the success of a Raptors team that is second in the Eastern Conference with a 25-13 record. Ask anyone about the team and they’ll mention its backcourt first and the fearlessness that Lowry plays with shortly afterward.

“We all kind of follow him,” Terrence Ross said. “He leads by example. He just wants everyone to be better. He says and he does the right things.”

Ross has been with Lowry since his rookie season with Toronto. He’s been there to watch Lowry’s game grow and evolve, much like own game has done this season. In the Raptors locker room, halfway across the room from where Lowry’s locker sits are the lockers for backup point guard Cory Joseph and swingman DeMarre Carroll. Unlike Ross, the duo each signed with Toronto in July 2015. Despite only being with Lowry for a season, each had plenty to say about his leadership and how it unites the team.

“He gives it his all every time he’s out there,” Joseph said. “Everybody on the team respects Kyle, loves him. He does the little things for a team, the camaraderie stuff off the court, getting a lot of food, bringing it to the plane or whatnot, in Philly getting Philly cheesesteaks and stuff like that.”

As a fellow point guard, Joseph watches Lowry from the sideline when he is on the bench, but also shares the floor alongside him for stretches of the game. Getting to play alongside another point guard who can think the game as well as Lowry is fun for Joseph. Especially when everyone sharing the floor with Lowry knows how had he’ll fight for the Raptors to get a victory each night.

“He’s all about winning and he does everything you can do to try to win,” Joseph said. “If he sees something, he’s not afraid to voice it, but also if someone else sees something and voices it to him, he knows how to take it.”

His on-court leadership is easy to see. Behind closed doors, in the locker room, more leading takes place during each Raptors game.

“He’s great at halftime speeches,” Carroll said. “He’s great at getting us motivated. He’s real mellow. It’s good. It’s good for the team. He’s not one to scream. DeMar has carried us a lot through games and at the end, it’s usually Kyle time. He usually starts the game off trying to get other people involved. I think the fourth quarter, that’s when he tries to turn it up and take it over.”

Scoring point guards are not out of the ordinary in today’s NBA. There is, however, a difference with the type of scoring and directing that Lowry is doing on a nightly basis for one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

“You see a lot of point guards that can score the ball, but their teams are not successful,” Carroll said. “You see guys like Kyle who can score the ball, and their teams are successful. There are other things that people might not notice, the average fan might not notice, but I'm sure basketball people around the league [see and] understand how important he is to this team.”

Despite playing with Lowry for longer than Carroll and Joseph combined, Ross was succinct when asked to sum up Lowry’s recent fourth quarter dominance:

“He just nows how to take over,” Ross said. “He just wants to win. I don't think people understand how badly he wants to win.”