In retrospect, the cheers for the free throw were probably a bit much. Kyle Lowry had missed his first one, remaining scoreless in the Raptors’ second game of the 2019 NBA playoffs, and it felt like he needed some encouragement. So a roar then, one not often heard for a single free throw, let alone in a game’s first two minutes. Lowry hit the shot, Toronto expanded its lead — one they refused to relinquish throughout their entire Game 2 contest against the Orlando Magic — and went on to win, 111-82. Order restored.
The good vibes in Game 2 for Toronto began with Lowry, but they didn’t end there. Still, the axiom remains true: as he goes, so go the Raptors. After Lowry hit his first three of the series, then finished a spinning jumper, a couple plays at the basket, another three, and some more free throws, it was clear the Raptors were going in the right direction. Lowry finished the half with 15 points, and Toronto never looked back. Their opening 11-0 run was powered with a fury and poise only really ever tested by the referees. And for his part, Lowry would go on to finish with 22 points (on 8-of-13 shooting), plus seven assists and four rebounds. He also shot 2-of-4 from three, chipped in with two steals, and finished at +30. It was a perfect Lowry line, his team’s lead never getting smaller than six points.
Leading the way in scoring for the Raptors was, of course, the team’s powerhouse Kawhi Leonard. If Lowry is Toronto’s heart, Kawhi is the metaphorical brawny chest protecting it. On the night, Leonard systematically broke down whichever Magic player was near him — Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac, it didn’t matter — to the tune of 37 points (on an impossible 15-of-22 shooting line, including 4-of-8 from three), four rebounds, and four assists, plus two steals. (He finished a +37, by the way.) And all this despite Leonard picking up two quick fouls in the first, and another in the second.
That description only goes part of the way in explaining how thoroughly Leonard thrashed Orlando. While Lowry was doing his usual feel good stuff — taking charges, sneaking in for a put-back, being a pest, goading the refs into making a continuation call (which didn’t work), e.g. the stuff we’re used to — Kawhi was going full-on Ozymandias, destroyer of worlds. There were spins, and drives, and effortlessly smooth jumpers; there was the step-back three over Gordon; or the time he split the double-team, powered past Vucevic, missed the lay-up, came right back down the floor, picked off a pass, and charged down the other way for the lay-up. He simply refused to miss; even the law of averages would not succumb. It was the kind of performance that reminds Toronto what this Raptors team can do now with Kawhi out front.
But the performances of Toronto’s two best players weren’t the whole story. They also got a super-charged complementary outing from Pascal Siakam, who had 19 points (on more efficient 8-of-16 shooting) and 10 rebounds. The Raptors forward looked just as comfortable as he did in Game 1, and continued to find ways to contribute on both ends of the floor. Likewise, Marc Gasol eventually took his moment to shine too. Despite a scoreless first half, Gasol would finish with nine points (on three timely 3s) and five assists (including a couple of mind-warpers), while getting a hand in on four steals. His counterpart, Serge Ibaka, put together some quality minutes as well, chipping in with 13 points and eight rebounds. No one could really do wrong down there for Toronto.
The Raptors didn’t do as well on the perimeter as a team though. They shot 11-of-35 from deep altogether, with Danny Green and Fred VanVleet going a combined 0-for-5, Norman Powell tossing up a 1-for-6, and even Jodie Meeks managing an 0-for-3 on the evening. It’s another way to frame how good Kawhi and Lowry were tonight, though. Toronto didn’t get its usual production from their fifth and sixth best players (Green and FVV), and it didn’t matter either way. The Magic have to be looking at that stat and wondering what they could even do differently.
And just to round out the narrative: In the fourth, with the Raptors thoroughly crushing the Magic, Lowry got tangled up with Michael Carter-Williams, drew the foul, and got a chance to pump the lead up to 33 with a technical free throw. Lowry hit that one too, saying afterwards that what he did differently in this game was “make shots.” The Raps would finish with that aforementioned 29-point lead, the largest post-season margin of victory they’ve ever had as a franchise. The cheers for Lowry’s last point were more perfunctory — if no less appreciative — and decidedly more relaxed. The series is tied now 1-1, and it feels like the Raptors have remembered who they are.