If there was any doubt regarding Kyle Lowry’s heart-and-soul status of this Raptors team, it is gone forever. At the start of the second half in Game 2 against the Cavaliers, with the Raptors skirting a blowout, Tristan Thompson threw Norman Powell into Lowry’s left leg, torquing his ankle. Lowry pounded the floor, and limped off in obvious pain. And yet, minutes later, there was Lowry, back on the court. His effort was heroic, inspiring, and everything Toronto needed.
The Raptors still lost to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, 125-103, falling to 0-2 in their Eastern Conference semifinals series. There’s nothing more Lowry could have done — except shut it down; which he did in the third quarter, the game once again never in doubt.
Instead, it was a night for LeBron James. The master of the known basketball universe consumed the Raptors, as a physical entity, and — just for fun — as a temporal concept. He posted 39 points on 14 shots, plus six rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks. There was no answer to this one man who is more than a man. And behind LeBron, the Cavaliers kept running, and firing right along with him. They shot 55 percent from the field, 55 percent from 3, and generally looked untroubled for most of the night.
For the Raptors, the irony was all rather delicious (or disgusting). After spending two days talking about starting lineup changes and the relative utility of the team’s players, it all didn’t matter anyway. What’s more, it was Jonas Valanciunas, off the bench, who did what he could to prop up the brutal Toronto offense. The big Lithuanian had 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He, along with Lowry (who managed 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting), were the only two Raptors players to make any consistent impact. Serge Ibaka also had 16 points, but he clanged so many shots in the opening quarter, his impact was ultimately inconsequential.
The Raptors just could not hit shots. They took only 17 threes, with many attempts coming after LeBron had already digested the team, Galactus-style. They only hit five, compared to the Cavs’ 18 (on a comical 33 attempts). There’s just no way to win an NBA game in 2017 with these kind of numbers. We can point to LeBron’s sublime presence as the obvious reason for the Raptors’ loss, but really, the mathematical trends here make winning impossible. A decent 47 percent from the field is acceptable; but three points are more than two. That’s it.
And now we come to our favourite two-point player: DeMar DeRozan.
Against the Bucks, there was a reason for DeRozan to struggle — lots of long limbs, super aggressive trapping, young energy. But in Cleveland, with defenders as august as Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, and Iman Shumpert — all DeRozan’s lessers on the defensive end — DeMar should not end up with five points on 2-of-11 shooting (plus three rebounds, and three assists). There’s no excuse for it. Especially after DeRozan said in the first round that it wouldn’t happen again. Maybe he meant it wouldn’t happen against the Bucks again.
Our HQ compatriot John Gaudes made a sound point: the Raptors need all of their players to be at their best to have any chance against Cleveland. That means the team’s collective defensive effort is strong, the ball moves around the court, and the wide open shots fall. Lowry did everything he could — even with a gimpy ankle — and Jonas, in a surprising turn, was effective. But there just was not enough from anyone else. It’s not even worth writing about. The Raptors were crushed, LeBron stays undefeated.
That’s something else we should never doubt again.