Kyle Lowry is the Raptors' best player. Though that has been clear all season, it might have taken a game like tonight's to truly remind his teammates. Without the star point guard, who was out due to nagging injuries, the Raptors looked disjointed and awkward on offense, leading to an abysmal shooting night just about anywhere on the court.
The Raptors shot 35 percent from the field, 55 percent from the line and 27 percent from downtown. It is virtually impossible to win an NBA game shooting that poorly. In fact, shooting that bad at this level really only occurs when ball movement is lacking. Without Lowry, that was clearly the case.
Two-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan failed to step up in Lowry's absence. He shot terribly from the field, and wasn't able to carry the offensive burden Lowry left behind. DeRozan was 6-of-16 on his shots, demonstrative of what had to have been a frustrating night for the longtime Raptor. And, it should have been.
The Raptors have never been a better team than they are right now. They are on the verge of breaking the current 49-win franchise record set last year, and they look poised to grab the second seed in the Eastern Conference going into the playoffs. As the expectations start to mount, each loss feels more costly, especially against a legitimate rival. For that reason, this game must be hard to swallow for the players and coaches.
The Celtics did what they had to do to notch to pivotal win, bringing them into a tie for third seed in the East, seven games back of the Raptors. As expected, Isaiah Thomas had a strong game without Lowry on the court to hold him back. He scored 23 points, and added four assists and two rebounds.
Former Raptors fan-favourite Amir Johnson also had a nice game against his old team. He showed part of why he was so popular in Toronto, notching 11 points and 14 rebounds. His old pal in the front court Jonas Valanciunas, meanwhile, appeared to still be playing his way back into rhythm, after missing a few games with a hand injury. He played a mere 21 minutes, finishing 10 points and seven rebounds.
The Raptors actually survived pretty well in the first half. They went into the break tied with the Celtics at 46. They were defending hard and doing an excellent job of containing their young, quick opponents. In the second half, the wheels fell off the wagon, as the Raptors tightened up on offense and lost much of their defensive spark. A late rally cut an 11-point lead to one in the fourth, but that was as close as Toronto got.
While it was encouraging to see the play of rookie Delon Wright (who finished the game with six points and eight rebounds -- with zero assists on 3-of-10 shooting, mind you), the story of the night was the absence of Lowry. As he goes, so go the Raptors, generally. As Toronto heads for the playoffs, they'll need their All-Star point guard as well-rested and ready to go as possible.
Because as nights like this show, the Raptors aren't going anywhere without him.