Just to get this out of the way: Draymond Green got his fingers on the ball. The one body who guards two bodies like perhaps no other player in NBA history did it all over again. Green denied Marc Gasol the ball by fronting, then scooted out to poke Lowry’s potential game-winner behind the backboard. That the Warriors forward, an all-universe defensive brain genius, was not immediately assigned credit in real time captures everything you need to know about the state of Kyle Lowry postseason slander. If there is an opportunity to assume that he blew it, it is taken.
Yes, down three with a minute and a half left to play, there was that doomed drive-and-kick. Lowry turned down a screen from Gasol, rumbled downhill, found himself smothered by DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala late in the clock, and farted out an wildly uncatchable pass to Gasol—instant backcourt violation. Maybe he would’ve had an easier time on the play if Kawhi Leonard and Fred VanVleet had cut or repositioned themselves on the arc, or did basically anything besides stand directly behind one another, but regardless, that one’s on Kyle. That’s a bad decision.
But consider the rest of the game, which was a steady sequence of good ones. Remember why Lowry was so eager to attack Boogie in that situation: He had spent the second half abusing the mismatch ad nauseam, guaranteeing buckets. The Raptors guard would toast him off the dribble, fight through the help, and finish strong at the rim. Lowry would cut short his drive, send the Warriors big tottering out of the play on momentum, then calmly deposit the ball in the basket. He even tacked on another one after that backcourt gaffe, coaxing Cousins into a goaltend. In a vacuum these plays aren’t all that impressive given Cousins’s compromised mobility, but Lowry did what a playoff small must do in this scenario: punish the depleted Warriors for playing their slow, hurt big as much as they now must.
Another man who can thank Lowry for his good decisions is Gasol, who unexpectedly led Toronto’s scoring effort in the first half with 15 points, largely by feasting at the line. He often found himself in scoring opportunities because Lowry had navigated tight quarters and put the pass right on target. Leonard desperately needs someone else to get the offense moving from time-to-time, and the Gasol-Lowry two-man game is gorgeous when they’re making decisive passes and cuts. That last sneaky pass fake by Lowry gets every Warrior in the paint in mid-air, opening up a tiny window for the little bouncer to Gasol.
The defense, at least, Lowry gets credit for. Though he’s a bit too slow to chase Steph Curry around endless screens—a task better left to VanVleet at this point—he can still hold his own on less frenetic assignments, especially in a post-up situation. That majestic rump, his real power crystal, shines when someone like Klay Thompson is looking to dust off his early-Warriors post game, and in this game Lowry held him to 3-of-10 shooting as Thompson’s primary defender. Elsewhere, Lowry uses what burst he still has to shoot the passing lanes expertly, and his sticky mitts create valuable opportunities in transition.
Maybe this is a result of the Raptors guard spending his prime wriggling under Playoff LeBron’s heel. He gets a reputation as the spaz who tosses up bricks in the clutch, who hurls his bowling-ball self into the defense in hopeless pursuit of a bailout call, who opts for an idiot nutmeg on a crucial possession, whose brain goes candle-wax as soon as things heat up. Then he found himself with Kawhi Leonard to shoulder the load and simplify his own responsibilities. In these Finals, finally, Lowry is playing heady basketball, and he remains one win away from a ring.