It could have been a story as old as time itself — the Toronto Raptors either letting up on the gas to make a blowout playoff game closer than it should’ve been. Or worse yet: losing yet another opening round Game 1 entirely. But not this time; not with the pedigree Toronto now holds. And especially not with Kyle Lowry as hungry as ever.
With 11:00 left in the fourth, Rodions Kurucs drove to the hoop for a layup to pull the Nets within nine points. On the ensuing possession, Fred VanVleet — who drilled a playoff career-high eight 3s and became the first Raptor in franchise history to have 30 points and over 10 assists in a playoff game — nailed a three by shaking Jeremiah Hart of the Nets with extreme prejudice.
From that moment on, the Raptors never looked back.
Rewinding for a moment to the third, however, Toronto’s stifling defense looked a bit off toward the end of the quarter when Lowry took his usual breather. While the Nets’ Caris LaVert couldn’t find (let alone hit) an open look to save his life in the first half, he exploded in the third, making shots, dropping dimes, and acting as the engine to pull the Nets back within striking distance. It was this kind of play from LeVert that brought Brooklyn into this matchup to begin with.
But so it goes with Lowry and the Raptors too. Once Lowry returned to start the fourth, you could see the team’s elite chemistry pulling back into form. With a three guard lineup (Lowry, VanVleet and Terence Davis) plus OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors were suffocating on the defensive end, holding the Nets to just 16 points in non-garbage time action.
And then of course, there was this gem:
It was just that kind of afternoon for Toronto. With just over six minutes left in the game, Lowry took an errant three to try to push the lead to 19. He missed, came back on defense, took a hard pick from Jarrett Allen, looked entirely pissed off, and pumped up the intensity on the ball defensively. Toronto gave up a basket anyway. So Lowry immediately called for a timeout to regroup the team — their lead just 14 at that point.
After that timeout, the Raptors would go on a 10-2 run to put the game away for good.
Playoff Lowry is back — and the ghosts have been exorcised.