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Kyle Lowry Kept The Raptors Alive

Photo: Ezra Shaw (Getty)

It was an up-and-down postseason in what’s been an up-and-down career for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, but on Thursday night, when all of his teammates struggled to score out of the gate in Game 6, it was Lowry who helped give them the jumpstart they needed to eventually cross the finish line. As the team’s co-leading scorer and top assist man in the series-clinching win, there can be no doubt—the Toronto Raptors are champions in large part thanks to Kyle Lowry.

With Jonas Valančiūnas leaving the team in the Marc Gasol trade mid-season, Lowry was by far the longest-tenured Raptor to win this championship, and it was a long and messy road to get to his and his franchise’s first-ever title. Originally drafted by Memphis all the way back in 2006, Lowry broke his wrist and missed almost all of his rookie season, then in 2009 lost the starter’s job to Mike Conley before getting traded to the Rockets. After a few years in Houston, Lowry couldn’t get along with head coach Kevin McHale, and so he got traded to the Raptors during the 2012 offseason.

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In Toronto, the narrative goes, Lowry finally matured and learned to get along with his coaches in pursuit of a larger goal. He managed to both stay healthy and grow as an unselfish leader, and when Masai Ujiri arrived, he became, along with DeMar DeRozan, one of the centerpieces of a perennial 50-win Raptors team. Even then, with their failure to get past LeBron James in the playoffs, it didn’t feel like a success, but this year, with a wide-open East and a new number-one option in Kawhi Leonard, they finally made it.

Lowry has been all over the place in the 2019 playoffs—he scored zero points in his team’s first game, was a non-factor in Game 7 against Philadelphia, and failed to find his shot in Games 1, 2, and 4 against the Warriors. Though Draymond Green got his hand on the ball, Lowry missed what could have been a championship-winning three in Game 5, which only added to his burden as the leader of a team best known for chokejobs.

The first quarter of Game 6 was Kyle Lowry’s redemption. The veteran scored the first eight points of the game, the first 11 points for the Raptors, and hit all four of his long-range attempts to make sure Toronto held a one-point lead at the end of the opening 12 minutes. Though he suffered from foul trouble that kept him out for stretches later on, Lowry’s 15 points and three assists were so crucial in front of a hostile crowd—without them, it’s far too easy to picture the Raptors falling into an insurmountable deficit and failing to ever reverse the momentum.

Lowry’s big moment in the fourth wasn’t quite a corner three for the title, but it was still a huge, tricky shot that he deserved to see fall. His last points of the 2019 NBA Finals came from an off-balance mid-range fade-away with two minutes to go and the Raptors up four. Steph Curry guarded him closely—and he did a damn good job of playing defense—but Lowry got this high bounce off the back iron before the ball smoothly fell through. Finally, it all felt right.

At 33 years old, this Finals run was going to be one of Lowry’s last chances to win a championship as an indispensable starter, and the duo he formed at guard with the hot-shooting Fred VanVleet successfully flipped the script on a decade of Raptor shortcomings. For most of his career, Lowry seemed too upset, too difficult, too aggressive, too unreliable to be truly great when his team needed him most. That’s all changed forever.

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“I appreciate the moment that I’m in,” Lowry said afterwards. “I’m happy I’m able to celebrate this moment with my teammates and with my family. The critics will have something else to say, which is fine. But I’m a champion.”

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