North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Lowry

Thoughts on a Raptors sweep

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The headlines today are as witty as they are predictable: “Sweep the North,” wrote the Toronto Sun, for example. The Raptors season is over with a dud of a game four, a blowout I didn’t even bother watching. Because let’s be real: this series ended after game three and the whole team spent last night going through the motions.

It sucked, but this Raptors season has more or less been a downer since the New Year and I can’t say it’s overly shocking now I look back at it.

Going into this, I picked the Raptors in six. It seemed like a good idea at the time and frankly, I wasn’t alone: only five of ESPN’s experts picked Washington and none had them winning in five games, let alone four straight. It made sense: Toronto swept them this year and the Wizards were not looking great, certainly not as good as they looked in all four games.

But Toronto certainly looked as bad as they ever did this season. And in game four, which I admittedly skipped watching live, they probably played their worst game all year. But maybe the signs were there all series long, like when Lowry went 5-of-22 shooting in game three. Or when he went 2-of-10 in game one. Hell, through the series, Lowry had a .316 shooting percentage, down from his .412 this regular season.

Lowry’s getting a lot of blame, but he’s hardly alone. Lou Williams – who won this season’s Sixth Man Award – shot a dismal .314 and jacked up about 13 shots per game. And DeMar DeRozan averaged 20 shots a game and hit about 40 per cent of them.

Given how this Raptors team lived by it’s offense all year, it’s fitting they died with it in this series. The Raptors couldn’t match the offensive production of John Wall or Bradley Beal, let alone slow it down. And in the close games, the Raptors couldn’t get stops.

For example, late in game three, the Raptors took a lead on a hell of a possession: Lowry made a steal, moved the ball quickly up court and dished to Amir Johnson, who slammed it home. It was 85-84 with about six minutes left. After that, it was downhill: Toronto’s shooting went ice-cold and they took some long threes. As the fourth wound down, Washington scored six points in under a minute and the Raptors lost 106-99.

In sum, it’s worth noting that Toronto averaged over 104 points a game this season, but broke 100 points in only one game.

But whatever, the season is over and frankly, I’ve moved on. I’m sure there’s going to be handwringing and gnashing of teeth, but really what is there to do with this team? Even on their best nights, they’re not really that good defensively and they’re not well constructed; remember, it wasn’t long ago that this team was getting blown up. Lowry was nearly traded to New York!

So what comes next? Is firing Dwane Casey the answer? Can you salvage this roster’s core and make another run? Or should they sell high-ish on DeRozan, Lowry and Valanciunas and start a rebuild? I don’t know if any of those are the answer; if anything, the Atlantic division is so weak, this team could probably make the playoffs again next year, even without a major overhaul. But they’d still probably lose in the first round.

My mind keeps going back to Bosh’s heyday here, when two good Raptor teams made the playoffs and amounted to basically nothing. And even though Bosh is arguably one of the best players they’ve ever had, his tenure here was vaguely depressing and kind of frustrating. They won a few games, picked up a division title and never made it out of the first round.

Maybe the Lowry era is the same way: they have a very good player, a couple of good supporting players but not enough. Lowry took a ton of shots this series, but maybe he had to since nobody else’s shots were dropping, too. That’s also how I remember the Bosh era ending, too.

In the Crowd Outside the ACC: Raptors/Nets, Game One

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The bus lets you off at the station on Bay and a tunnel takes you into the Bay Atrium next door. From there it’s just a short walk down the Path to Union Station and a series of tunnels that takes you to the Air Canada Centre’s doorstep. I made the trip yesterday with my buddy Eric, hoping to watch some Raptors magic.

It’s been a while since the Raptors were in the playoffs. I’m pretty sure it’s been even longer since they were on ESPN, since people in the US paid any attention to this team. Raptor fans have been waiting for a national spotlight like this for a while. And that’s not even getting into this season’s special circumstances, either.

Coming into this season, the Raptors weren’t highly regarded. Rudy Gay was a high-volume, low-output scorer, although laser eye surgery was supposed to help that a little bit. Near the end of last season, DeMar DeRozan had started playing a lot better and Kyle Lowry was, too. All three seemed like trade bait, a way to help the Raps quickly rebuild as they looked forward to a stacked draft, topped by local talent Andrew Wiggins.

The Raptors flipped Gay to Sacramento early in the season and almost immediately looked better. But they weren’t done: there was a rumoured deal to send Lowry to the Knicks, but someone in New York vetoed the deal. Soon the wins kept piling up and, amidst a poor Atlantic division, the Raptors were in the thick of it. They couldn’t tank, they were just too good in a bad conference: by year’s end, they’d finish with an identical record as Phoenix, a team that didn’t qualify for the postseason.

Juxtapose this welcome surprise against the Toronto sports landscape: the Jays disappointing 2013 campaign, the Leafs crashing and burning late in the season. Two teams everyone expected to go places, both of whom crushed fans in new and exciting ways.

Essentially, going into Saturday, there was a lot of pent-up emotion.

The crowd outside the ACC packed into a tight square. There was a big fence and off to one side, a pile of steel bleachers. Some people brought signs, others brought their kids. One guy in front of me had his son on his shoulders, each wearing Raptors gear. I got there as the second quarter started and the Raptors were keeping pace with the more-experienced Nets team. People were shouting, yelling when calls didn’t go their way. When someone – Vasquez or Lowry, it usually seemed – made a play, they all cheered. It was a good scene and the lone TSN camera outside – a lens on a pole, occasionally swinging around like a pinata, just above our heads – didn’t do it justice.


The Eaton Centre is a changed place from even last December. The big Sears is gone, replaced by a gaping white tunnel. The food court is open now, looking more like a restaurant than the place where you could buy Sbarro’s. There’s nice tables, the food stands give you plates and flat screen TVs on every wall. All of them were on the Raptors game.

Eric and I sat there to watch the end of the game. Even here, in a crowded food court, people were yelling and shouting about the Raptors. The guy behind me was there with a young woman and a kid; we often yelled variations of the same line right around the same time. Usually something about Lowry, who was carrying the team on his back. He scored baskets, gambled on huge steals and created the fast break that led to the game’s highlight dunk.

Lowry was doing it alone, it seemed. DeMar DeRozan shot 3-of-13 and seemed even less a factor than that; Amir Johnson scored two points in over 20 minutes of play. Going into this series I worried about the Nets outside shooting and what’d happen if it went to the wire, if Toronto has someone as willing to take the big shot as Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce is. Now I wonder if it’ll even be close – if Toronto can even recover from this game. Lowry was going everything, doing everything.

I remember one possession well: after a turnover, he rushed it back up the court and was fouled hard on his way to the basket, landing on his side and slamming into the base of the net. He was down for a moment; all I could think was how he can’t do this alone. He was still trying, though, in a way I haven’t seen a Raptor try in years. I don’t think I’m alone: as I left the crowd outside the ACC, people were chanting “Ky-le! Ky-le!”

A good start for the Raptors and a bad turn for Lowry’s ankle

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It’s not exactly great times in Toronto sports right now: the Jays season ended in disaster, with injuries, a manager who wanted to be in Boston and a player writing slurs on his face. The Argos are underwhelming and limping into the playoffs: they’re 9-9, with a negative point differential.  The Bills, that part-time resident of the Rogers Centre, are wasting away in a weak AFC East, even looking worse than the rudderless New York Jets.

And the Maple Leafs? They’re still locked out.

So the Raptors it is. The Raptors, which had a ton of hype coming into this season – Jonas is finally here! Bargnani is healthy! And DeMar just signed an extension! – are the biggest game in town. For the first time in a few years, they’re a must-watch even among non-hoops junkies. Their ratings reflect this: their season opener against Indiana was their highest rated game since the 2009-10 season, with about 346,000.

That’s more than watched the Sunday night NFL game between New Orleans and Denver on October 28 or the Martinsville 500. It’s even outdrew CBC’s classic hockey broadcast. But it’s way behind the CFL and World Series. The Raptors are becoming a bigger draw, but they aren’t a national attraction. Not yet, anyway.

There was a lot of things to like in their first game, except maybe the final score; it was a close win for Indiana, a team that’s probably going to the postseason this year. There was the debut of Jonas Valanciunas, who has looked good at times and not so hot at others. There’s a new role for Jose Calderon, who comes off the bench and can play off the ball. And, biggest of all, is Toronto’s big splash of the summer: Kyle Lowry.

Through four games, Lowry is statistically the best player on the Raptors. His PER is an off-the-charts 30.9. His shooting is accurate (a .703 TS percentage), efficient (a 6.36 eFG) and he’s already at 0.9 Win Shares. What’s better for the Toronto fan is that Lowry’s also the most fun-to-watch player the Raptors have had in years. He’s constantly moving, all over the ball and not a bad defender. He plays like he’s got something to prove. Here’s his stat line from the Raptors first win of this season, a 105-86 win over Minnesota: 22 points, seven rebounds, three steals and five assists. Basketball-reference gives three of his four games in a Raptors uniform a Game Score of 22 or above. Last season, Calderon had just four games like that all season long.

That fourth game is the one to be concerned about. It was last night, election night in America, against Oklahoma City. It was the second road game of the season and first of a two-game road swing. It was also the second time the Raptors had been on NBA-TV this season, which gave the game a pretty good-sized national audience.

For most of his time on the court, Lowry had been matched up against Russell Westbrook, who was having a good night. About halfway through the second quarter, Lowry went up for a rebound and landed on Serge Ikaba’s foot. Lowry’s ankle turned inward and he fell to the floor. TSN had this all on their live broadcast; they had switched to an under-the-basket camera before Lowry went up for the rebound. They kept him in frame as he went down, as play moved away and Lowry starting groaning in pain and struggled to get up. If it was anywhere near as bad as it looked, Toronto got to see the Raptors best player get hurt in a very loud and direct way.

It was cringe-inducing television. I can’t think of the last time I saw something like this in any sports event: a player getting hurt while in closeup, with the broadcast staying on them while they were obviously hurt. For instance, when Garbajosa broke his leg, I remember the camera cutting away. When I did OHL games back in Oshawa, if someone got hurt, we’d switch to camera one, the wide-angle shot of the rink from mid-ice. I don’t know why TSN stayed on Lowry. Maybe they didn’t realize.

Lowry left the game and didn’t return. The Raptors lost the game, 108-88, and it wasn’t even that close. But we all move on. Lowry isn’t supposed to play tonight against Dallas and there isn’t any word on when he’ll be back. The Raptors Twitter account says he’ll be reassessed daily (I like to imagine this also happens on Twitter: “Still swollen Kyle?” asks the Raptors account and he replies with an Instagrammed photo of a walking boot). The Raptors have a couple days off this week before a three-in-four-days stretch that includes Utah, a rematch with Indiana and Philadelphia. I know I’m not the only person hoping Lowry’s ankle is healed up by then.

Written by M.

November 7, 2012 at 8:10 pm