Facing the harshest criticism of his career, a determined future hall-of-famer, and an opponent that’s already packed for Cleveland, Kyle Lowry rose to the occasion on Saturday with a clutch performance for the ages to give his Toronto Raptors a 95-91 victory and a 2-1 series lead over the Miami Heat.
Shooting a dismal 31 percent from the field entering Game 3, Lowry overcame a quiet first half that included just four points before dropping 29 more on Dwyane Wade and company in the final two frames of Saturday’s win—none more significant than a 15-foot jumper with 31.7 seconds remaining to give Toronto a 3-point lead.
”I was just being myself, just having that mentality to be a killer,” said Lowry. ”I was just looking at D-Wade doing his thing and I was like, ‘I need to match him’. So it was just that ongoing, eternal one-on-one team battle. You know what I mean?”
With consecutive 1-7 efforts from long-range and a series scoring average of only 12.5 points per game hanging over his head —nearly nine points lower than the 21.2 points per game he averaged during the regular season, Lowry’s slow start was the last thing that residents of Raptor-land wanted to see on Saturday.
But with Wade in the midst of a 38-point outing and center Jonas Valanciunas out with an ankle injury, Toronto’s fearless floor-general knew that only he could ignite the offense, scoring 15 points during a decisive third quarter before adding 14 more in the fourth.
”When you get the opportunity to quiet the crowd and make a big shot against a great team and a great player it’s always good, especially playing against a guy I’ve grown up watching,” said Lowry. ”I’m such a big fan of [Wade], still am.”
Now that Valanciunas is expected to miss what remains of Toronto’s second-round series with Miami, Lowry’s performance moving forward is even more critical to his team’s success.
Granted, DeMar DeRozan’s 19-point effort reassured Rapor-nation that Lowry is not alone—even if the former USC Trojan shot south of 40 percent from the field for the third straight game. But as usual, when the game is on the line, the ball will be in Lowry’s hands.
In a somewhat coincidental twist of playoff misfortune, Miami big-man and defensive terror Hassan Whiteside also went down with an injury in Game 3 that’s left him listed as day-to-day. So basically, if both Valanciunas and Whiteside are sidelined, Saturday’s war between Lowry and Wade was only the beginning.
But unless Saturday’s performance was irrefutable evidence of Lowry’s permanent return to all-star status, a guard-based battle for a ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals won’t be to Toronto’s advantage.