Lowry takes charge, Raptors tie series

by Chris O'Leary

In the late stages of Game 4, as the Raptors’ win began to look like more of a sure thing, Nick Nurse saw an opening for a joke with one of his star players. 

He asked Kyle Lowry -- whose 22-point, 11-rebound and seven-assist night came in a tidy 44 minutes -- if he wanted to get subbed out. 

“I did check with him a couple times but I was just joking. I asked him if he needed a sub, with kind of smile. You know...he chewed me out,” Nurse said, laughing after his team evened its series with Boston. 

“I was just kidding.” 

Back on even ground with Boston after the Raptors’ most complete, impressive game of this series, there’s room for jokes where there may not have been a day or two ago. On Saturday night, the Raptors looked like themselves again, eventually finding their three-point touch (17 of 44 for 38.6 per cent) and getting a healthy bench contribution from Serge Ibaka (18 points and seven rebounds). 

Most important, the Raptors locked down a Celtics team that even without the injured Gordon Hayward, are loaded with offensive options. Their 100-93 win marks the first time in the series that they’ve held Boston under 100 points. 

You won’t be shocked to read this, but it all stemmed from Lowry. He got it going by duplicating the start he had in Game 3, scoring 11 of the team’s first 17 points. His scoring was put on pause until the fourth quarter, essentially, but he dug in for the entire 44 minutes that he played, leaving his fingerprints on every aspect of the game. 

There was a sequence on defence where Lowry was defending the wing, then had to hustle under the basket to put a body on Daniel Theis, who’s almost a foot taller than Lowry. With the centre neutralized, he turned in time to take a charge from Kemba Walker, one of three offensive fouls he’d draw on the night. 

There were fearless drives to the basket, perfect kick out passes to Fred VanVleet on the perimeter, a gorgeous touch pass off his fingers to a cutting Pascal Siakam for the finish. At one point in the first quarter, caught in transition, Lowry managed to get up enough in the air to break up an alley-oop that no one watching figured he’d get. 

“Every time when Kyle starts the way he started tonight it’s always a good sign,” Ibaka said.  

“We need him. He’s our motor and that’s what we need. It’s good to see Kyle have games like he did (in Games 3 and 4).” 

As much as it helped, it wasn’t so much Lowry’s offence that felt like the daggers in the fourth quarter; it was just his presence. It felt like he was in every play, impacting the game in some way. 

He chased down an errant Marcus Smart pass that might have gone out of bounds on its own. Instead, Lowry dove for the ball, sending him and Jayson Tatum toward the LED display on the sideline. Lowry finished the game with chalk from the table all over the back of his shorts. It was the perfect representation of his night. 

“That’s what it's about, man playoff basketball,” VanVleet said. 

“Kyle kind of embodies what this team is and seeing him stepping in and taking charges, seeing him stripping (players) and playing defence, guarding Jayson Tatum, one of the better scores in the league, just giving out all-out effort for the loose ball...just seeing him lay it all out there. That's what we expect of him and I think we all try to match that energy ourselves.” 

When they were down 0-2 in this series, VanVleet said the team just needed some juice, a little magic to get them going and get them out of their funk. Lowry has responded with a two-game stretch that should be remembered by fans and pundits for years. He’s played 90 minutes in the last two games, making one of the most difficult passes to set up a game-winner that the league might ever see. Both games were Tasmanian devil-like efforts, just a flourish of energy on both ends of the floor, sacrificing his undersized body whenever he saw an opportunity to. 

“I want to say that when anybody comes out that aggressively usually gives us a boost,” Nurse said, “but he obviously is our team leader and our veteran. When he does that, I think it automatically hits everybody like a burst of energy, focus and confidence.” 

A lot can change in two games. After a horrible start to this series, the Raptors have regained momentum and it feels like anything is possible again. 

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