Coming off consecutive routs at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in which they scarcely approached a level of play that could make the defending NBA champions sweat, the Toronto Raptors desperately need some things to change to have a chance to get back into the series once the scene shifts to Air Canada Centre for Game 3 on Friday night. Near the top of the list: they need Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to take control of the proceedings and carry the Raptors like the All-Star backcourt they’ve become.
That task seemed tough enough with DeRozan coming off one of the worst games of his career, a five-point, 2-for-11 outing in which he didn’t make his first field goal until the opening minute of the fourth quarter. It got even tougher Thursday, when head coach Dwane Casey told reporters at Raptors practice that Lowry’s availability for Friday’s Game 3 was up in the air:
Dwane Casey says Kyle Lowry is questionable for Game 3. So there's that.
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) May 4, 2017
Less than a minute into the second half of Game 2, Cavs center Tristan Thompson pushed Raptors swingman Norman Powell aside while battling for offensive rebounding position. Powell hit the deck and rolled into Lowry’s left leg, sending the All-Star point guard to the floor in a heap and in evident pain, pounding his fist on the ground after dragging himself to the baseline:
“I saw it,” said Cavs star LeBron James after the game, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet. “It didn’t look that great. I just wanted him to get up. He’s a good friend of mine, a respected guy in our league.”
Lowry limped back to the locker room under his own power, and came back just over a minute later with what the Raptors termed a sore left ankle. He was clearly laboring, though, hobbling as he checked Cavs star Kyrie Irving on defense and gritting out every probing drive.
After Cleveland ripped off a 19-8 run in just over 3 1/2 minutes to push their lead to 24 points, Casey pulled Lowry from the game with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter, preferring to save his lead guard’s ailing ankle any more punishment in pursuit of a comeback that wasn’t to come:
After the Cavs wrapped up the blowout win, Lowry was clearly favoring his left ankle as he moved around:
“It’s pretty sore,” Lowry said after limping onto the postgame podium, according to Tom Withers of The Associated Press. “It’s painful, but I’m not going to complain about it. Get treatment and get ready to play in Game 3.”
That was Lowry’s view immediately following Game 2, though. In the cold light of morning, the Raptors held him out of practice, and Casey sounded very far from sure that his point guard would be ready to go come tipoff of Game 3:
Casey has referred to Lowry as 'questionable' for G3 twice now in his briefing re: Lowry, who is going for MRI this afternoon.
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) May 4, 2017
The Raptors have been outscored by 17 points in 300 minutes with Lowry on the floor this postseason, and by 12 in 84 minutes of him resting — nearly as large a margin, in just over a quarter of the floor time. An already low-assist team generates fewer helpers with him off the court, and a Raptors team that has shown no ability to credibly defend Cleveland’s offensive firepower — and thus needs to get as many buckets as humanly possible — has posted a lower field-goal percentage from every area of the floor without Lowry on it.
Toronto’s offense has cratered when he’s hit the bench this postseason. The Raptors have gone from a scoring rate in his minutes (105 points per 100 possessions) that would have ranked right around the middle of the pack in offensive efficiency during the regular season to one (89 points-per-100) that would have finished roughly 200,000 leagues beneath the Philadelphia 76ers’ league-worst mark.
As stopgap backup options go, Cory Joseph and Delon Wright are solid and serviceable. But neither offers the combination of pick-and-roll playmaking, long-range shot-making, off-the-dribble attacking and defensive steel that has made Lowry so valuable to these Raptors over the past five years. With DeRozan struggling to handle Cleveland’s traps and double-teams, with multiple arms and attackers lurking behind the on-ball defense of J.R. Smith, anything less than the best Toronto can offer — anything best than a fully operational Kyle Lowry — just won’t cut it.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to go where Kyle and DeMar go,” Casey said after Game 2.
And if one can’t get going, and the other can’t go period, the Raptors will stay on the road to nowhere they traveled in Games 1 and 2.
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