It was the perfect storm for Kyle Lowry. Facing a team that was rumoured to be interested in him, but unable to pull the trigger for a trade because of attachment to a young player. Seeing them late in the season, during a part of their schedule where they should be tuning up for a deep playoff run. Very little stakes on the other side of the ball. It could only be Kyle Lowry to take that exact set of circumstances and turn it into his best game of the season.
It was all Lowry and all Pascal Siakam for the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, as their two starters picked up the slack for a sitting Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, leading the team to a 121-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lowry was really the centre of attention tonight, though. Scoring 37 points and dishing 11 assists, the veteran shot 8-for-13 from distance and exposed a plodding Lakers defense at any opportunity.
He was helped out by a supporting cast of active cutters too, namely DeAndre’ Bembry (14 points, eight rebounds) and Freddie Gillespie (11 points), as Toronto’s offense looked sharper than it has in a while despite missing important bodies — even when Lowry wasn’t making the direct assist.
Despite his great performance, Lowry wasn’t the team leader in points. That honour goes to Pascal Siakam, who scored 17 of his game-high 39 in the first quarter alone. Siakam was strong-willed and, sometimes to his detriment, wanted to be at the centre of action throughout. Taking any opportunity to attack Anthony Davis on both ends, with his opponent looking a few steps slow in a difficult stretch of games, Siakam got to his spots easily and finished make-able shots (15-of-25 overall, 4-for-8 from three).
Depth scoring was an issue again — only four Raptors scored in double-digits — but it was barely a factor in how the game played out. In addition to the active cutters, Toronto was smart defensively in packing the paint and forcing Los Angeles to rely on jump shots. LeBron James, still clearly working his way back from a 20-game absence, had a relatively quiet 19 points and left in the fourth quarter with a sore ankle. Anthony Davis shot just 5-for-16 and had 12 points, a disappointing game in both the box score and by the eye test.
Siakam opened the game with a bang, scoring seven of the team’s first nine points. There were some early struggles on the defensive end, though, as Malachi Flynn and Khem Birch — both starters — lost cutters behind them, which is easy money for any LeBron-led team. The Lakers would take an early lead and carry it to the end of the first, going up 38-32.
A truly wild lineup came out to start the second, with both Lowry and Siakam needing to sit after the first. Flynn stayed out with Rodney Hood, Jalen Harris, Stanley Johnson, and Freddie Gillespie. One of the best surprises of the night is that this lineup did better than tread water. A lot of credit here goes to the play of Gillespie — the rookie was visibly more active than the Lakers bench bigs, including Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma, and managed to tally five offensive rebounds bruising against them in the paint. The weekend has been a nice bounce-back for Gillespie, who’s still fresh into a new contract, and with the starters still short-handed, his contribution was much-needed tonight.
Lowry and Siakam returned to a tied game after that bench stretch, and in the final minutes of the second quarter they both went off. Lowry made a pair of threes to stretch Toronto’s lead into the double digits, as they went into halftime up 72-59.
Then, in the third, the Raptors were able to keep the game at bay. Siakam scored the first five for the Raptors in the half, relentlessly attacking Davis with spin moves and drives by the big man. Lowry stuck a couple more big shots, and any chance for a Los Angeles comeback continued to get snuffed out by the veteran right through the fourth quarter as well.
Obviously, the win is a big one for Toronto, as they move to within 2.5 games of the Wizards and the ten seed in the East. They also steal a win during the most difficult part of their remaining schedule, which doesn’t end here. They’ll stay in Los Angeles to face the Clippers on Tuesday night.