The numbers were to a large degree gruesome, and that’s not the least bit surprising because the numbers were gruesome right across the board.
But despite them, despite the few shots and the fewer makes and a minutes total limited by early foul trouble and a pesky sprained thumb that became a mere afterthought, Kyle Lowry may not have played a better game than he did for the Raptors on Sunday night.
It was without question a gritty and grimy and tough performance from the veteran point guard, who willed the Raptors back into a game they eventually won 92-90 on the strength of the most improbable shot in franchise history.
A steal here, a stop there, a series of offensive rebounds he had no right getting: It was Vintage Lowry.
Lowry was just 4-for-13 from the field, missed six of the seven three-pointers he took, but he also had six rebounds and six assists in his 39 minutes. Not bad for a guy who had to race back to the locker room in the second quarter to have a sprained left thumb taped up.
“I fell, it popped out, I popped it back in, it kind of was loose,” Lowry said of his thumb. “I was just trying to figure out how to pass the ball. I couldn’t really pass the ball and grip the ball, but that doesn’t matter. I’m fine, I played, we won the game. We’ll get some rest and try heal it up as fast as possible.”
Lowry was able to play the entire second half despite the limitations and hit his only three-pointer of the game.
“I really was impressed with his defence,” coach Nick Nurse said. “He was being so alert and aggressive with his switching out. When you saw an opening coming, he was out there.
“He was great down the stretch defensively”
Lowry’s greatest impact came in the third quarter when the game was in danger of slipping away from the Raptors.
In a stretch of about three minutes, after Toronto had seen a five-point lead turn into a seven-point deficit, Lowry set up Serge Ibaka for a layup, had two offensive rebounds on the same possession that led to a Kawhi Leonard three-pointer, and a steal that set up another Ibaka bucket.
“We felt like we were in a desperate situation from the tip, and from the game jump ball,” Lowry said. “We didn’t play well offensively. We played really good defensively. We got back in transition. We gave up a lot of leads. We did a lot of things that we usually don’t do. We only won one quarter — we won one quarter. We did a lot of things that we could have done a lot better, but found a way to win the game, so that’s all that matters.”
In what was one of the best displays of defensive basketball played here this season, the Raptors limited Philadelphia to 43-per-cent shooting and held them to one field goal in the final 31/2 minutes.
Toronto forced a shot-clock violation, a turnover and a missed shot in three possessions in the final two minutes, in one of the Raptors’ best stretches of defence in the post-season.
“Tenacious, tough, switching one through five with that group … I thought we passed up a few shots we could have shot,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown.
Neither the Raptors nor Sixers shot with anything close to the necessary NBA consistency or accuracy, and the game was riddled with turnovers given its importance, but it was taut and tense and played with incredible passion.
Leonard led Toronto with his 41 points and Lowry was wonderful in an all-around performance. The Sixers got double-figure scoring from all five starters, and Joel Embiid had a double-double to lead them.
Whatever Nurse had learned in preparing himself for the moment, the most important thing was to be adaptable and willing to go with the flow and make decisions that ran counter to what he’d done for six games. He shortened the rotation to just seven players by leaving Norm Powell out of the mix entirely, and rode Leonard and Marc Gasol to extraordinary lengths.
Gasol was the most important, matched up minute for minute with Embiid for the first time in the series.
“I think a lot of it is situational, too,” Nurse said of his rotation decisions. “You don’t know about matchups, you don’t know about foul trouble, you don’t know about how well the guys in front of them are playing sometimes, too. Usually it’s good problems when you’ve got, like, seven guys you want on the floor at once.”
Nurse did have seven he wanted, primarily because Ibaka played as well as he had since Game 3 of the Orlando series, hitting three three-pointers and finishing with 17 points and a vital offensive rebound in the final 45 seconds.
He and Fred VanVleet — who played more than he normally would have because Lowry had to sit for about five first-quarter minutes with two fouls, and another couple of minutes in the second while getting the sprained thumb attended to — were the only backups to get on the court for Toronto.
The Sixers went with just seven players as well, with Brown being like Nurse and leaving the game in the hands of his best players.
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps
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