Some rust was to be expected for the Raptors when they hit the floor for their first game since mid-March on Saturday night. Forgive me if I’ve led with this exact phrasing before, but these Raptors could give a damn about expectations, even amid a global pandemic.
The Raptors 107-92 punking of the Lakers was a dash of normal. It wouldn’t look out of place against any of the couple dozen running-through-walls wins they picked up before the pause. But in the light of something familiar that may threaten to draw our attention away from the world at large, it’s worth a reminder that this game and every other game in the NBA Disney bubble is secondary to the need to continue the work in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Before we get into our usual recap, a reminder that there is always learning to be done, and action to be taken. Visit this comprehensive resource hub if you’re looking for ways in which you can do your part in the fight against anti-Black racism.
And with that, we discuss Kyle Lowry and that game.
It’s probably not accurate to suggest the Raptors had entirely shaken off the cobwebs when this one started. After a 10-0 run to start things out, Toronto’s offense got a tad stodgy, hampered by LA’s interior length and Raptor-like commitment to rotating. Toronto mustered just 41 first half points, with Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka combining for the only six points the bench produced in the opening 24. Only five of the 19 threes the team launched up fell in. They hung tight thanks to their trusty, second-ranked defense, which forced the ball away from LeBron James and Anthony Davis and into the hands of LA’s thin supporting cast. Big ups to noted sleeper agent Danny Green for bricking all seven of his shots in the game. At the half, with OG Anunoby haranguing LeBron and Marc Gasol standing arms-up and stationary near the rim, the Lakers’ superstar duo boasted just eight points between them.
It was in the second half where Toronto’s offense picked up steam, and Raptors fans got to truly welcome back the team that left them back in March. Of course, the Before Times version of the team was powered by Kyle Lowry, and so is the Disney bubble one.
Lowry’s third quarter was plain dumb. Over and eight and a half minute stint, he hot-wired Toronto’s stalling offense by getting out on the run, made easier by the seven defensive rebounds he grabbed by himself in that stretch. He drained four of his five shots in the quarter, including both threes he attempted. Just before leaving the floor, he dropped in a blow-by of Anthony Davis and a nifty reverse for flavour.
A hairy moment came for the Raptors with Lowry sitting for rest, as a Fred VanVleet and Siakam-led in-between lineup coughed up a 20-9 run to the Lakers to close the frame. It’s probably too early to make any grand declarations about Nick Nurse’s rotation patterns, but it’s worth monitoring how the Raptors’ bench fares in the lead-up to the playoffs. As noted pal Joe Wolfond notes, things seem to come a whole lot easier when one of Lowry or Marc Gasol are on the floor.
raps might need to stagger kyle & marc’s minutes. offence is a shitshow with neither of those guys on the floor— Joe Wolfond (@joey_doubleyou) August 2, 2020
Credit where it’s due, though. Nurse opened the fourth quarter with an uncommonly seen mishmash lineup featuring Gasol, Anunoby, VanVleet, Powell and Matt Thomas. Squaring off with a LeBron-led Lakers unit, Toronto lost 4:23 of Lowry-less ball by only two points. The score sitting tied at 80s, Lowry reentered with 7:37 to go. By around the two minute mark, he’d leave the game in a state of garbage time.
Among the many things we previously knew about the Raptors that still proved true on Saturday, perhaps the most important is that this team continues to whips ass in crunch time. When last we saw them, the Raps sat second in the league in crunch-time scoring efficiency per NBA.com, and fourth in NET Rating in games within five points with under five minutes left. Lowry’s big, beautiful brain has a lot to do with it, along with his balls, which deserve the same descriptor. In the fourth quarter, Lowry greased Toronto’s previously sludgy half-court attack by busting out ol’ reliable: pick-and-rolls involving he and Siakam. Either iteration of the action — Lowry screening for Siakam or the other way around — was an instant bucket for the Raptors in high stakes moments this season. It was against the Lakers, too.
Not long after that, Lowry put the thing away with his second brazen triple of the quarter — part of another 10 points tossed on the board in the frame by the East’s best point guard.
In six-plus fourth quarter minutes, Lowry was a plus-15. He finished the evening with 33 points, 14 boards and six assists on 8-of-16 shooting and a dozen made free-throws in 15 trips. If the national stage of the bubble isn’t enough to bring whatever straggler Lowry non-appreciators over to the right side of history, nothing ever will, and those poor moronic souls will continue to miss out on what’s become a truly special career by a one-of-a-kind maniac of a player.
Lowry was of course not a alone in the effort against the Lakers. OG Anunoby looks mighty leap-ish right now. Coupled with his pestering defense on LeBron was a line of 23 points, four boards, two steals and an 8-of-9 mark from the floor. A particularly spine-tingling instance took place in response to a pair of déja vu-inducing heat-check threes from LeBron, as OG struck back with a pair of corner-three swishes of his own. These are not the pre-2018 Raptors, man. VanVleet pitched in a 13-point, 11-assist double-double, and Siakam compensated for a tilted shooting line with a menacing night on the defensive end.
But as has been the case since well before the pandemic, or the title, or Phase 2 of the MCU, Lowry is and was the dude behind the Raptors successes in their return to real NBA action. If this is the level of play four and a half months of R&R have set Lowry up to reach, we’re in for a damn treat.