As I noted in my previous “What If” entry, I’d love to keep the focus here on some lesser-known moments in Raptors history, and how the “butterfly effect” of changing one thing can change multiple other things down the road (like how Jalen Rose not breaking his hand leads to Don Nelson coaching the Raptors and the Raptors leading the three-point revolution).
This one... is not exactly that. It’s a BIG moment. And, the different outcome doesn’t actually really change anything. It is, perhaps a little more of a personal wish-fulfillment exercise.
But I think it’s a fun one nonetheless!
What if... Kyle Lowry hit the game-winning shot in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals?
What actually happened? In a moment that’s now largely forgotten, since the Raptors went on to win Game 6, Kyle Lowry had a chance to beat the Golden State Warriors and clinch Toronto’s first NBA title in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals.
With Warriors leading 106-105, the Raptors had the last shot. The Warriors clearly didn’t want Kawhi Leonard beating them, and he gave up the rock to Fred VanVleet, who found Lowry in the corner. But his buzzer-beating attempt was blocked — barely! — by Draymond Green.
It was a sensational defensive play — but for Raptors fans, it was an anti-climactic finish to what was a terrific, unbelievably intense Game 5.
What happened in a parallel universe? Kyle hits the shot. Raptors win! The Raptors are NBA champs, just as they are in our reality, except:
- The Raptors win at home. You saw what the city was like after the Raptors won Game 6 of the Finals on the road; I have to imagine it would have been even crazier had they won Game 5 at home. I wonder if I’d even have made it out of the arena!
- Kawhi Leonard’s otherworldly 10-2 run goes down as one of the great sequences in NBA history. It really, really sucks that this run is largely forgotten, since the Raptors lost. It pretty much blew my mind.
- We have a proper, signature go-to play from the 2019 Finals, which we don’t really have. (Fred VanVleet’s Game 6 primal scream seems to get the most replay). The Leonard run and Lowry’s shot would be replayed forever and ever. Heck, the entire final five minutes —Leonard’s run, the three straight threes from the splash brothers, Lowry’s game winner — would go down as one of the great Finals quarters of all time.
- Nick Nurse’s inexplicable momentum shifting timeout never becomes a topic of conversation.
- Kevin Durant’s injury (and Toronto’s crowd reaction) becomes even more of a topic of conversation.
- Klay Thompson never blows out his knee in Game 6, and the Warriors don’t become the worst team in the league in 2019-20.
- The Raptors become the first team to ever win two series on buzzer-beating walk-offs in the same postseason.
- Kyle Lowry becomes perhaps the greatest hero in Toronto sports history.
It’s the last one that is perhaps the most interesting. Lowry went out and delivered an incredible Game 6 performance, one that seems to have changed a lot of minds about him; folks who for years (incorrectly) insisted “he sucks in the playoffs” finally realized how great he is. It was a masterful game in and of itself.
If he’d hit that Game 5 shot, though, I think the reaction would have been even greater. Would he be as lionized as, say, Kyrie Irving, who has been living off of his one moment of glory in 2016, even though he’s been average (at best) since then? Would Lowry’s hall-of-fame case be cemented by it? Would he have won Finals MVP!?
Definitely not the last one, not with Leonard’s performance (maybe Kyle’d have gotten that Fred VanVleet vote though!) but I do think it would have elevated him even further in people’s minds.
At the end of the day, the outcome of this “What If” doesn’t really change a thing. I’m obviously beyond thrilled that the Raptors won the title in Game 6 and that Lowry was so awesome in that game.
But man, it would have been just that little bit sweeter to win it at home in Game 5, on a walk-off Kyle Lowry buzzer beater. I’d probably still be crying tears of joy about it.