- After two games struggling at home, Raptors star Kyle Lowry had a breakout game against the Warriors in Oakland. Finally back in rhythm, he adds another layer of danger for the hobbled Warriors.
A certain hesitation loomed over Kyle Lowry in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Even as a traditional pass-first point guard, Lowry looked downright reticent with the ball in his hands before the series went to Oakland, producing just 20 points on 6-of-20 shooting in two games. Lowry passed out of open triples and refused to exploit switches, failing to find a rhythm as he battled foul trouble. The Warriors stole Game 2 as Lowry went 4-of-11 from the field, and a missed opportunity loomed.
It wasn’t just Lowry who struggled against Golden State in Game 2. Marc Gasol made just two field goals and Pascal Siakam made five of his 18 attempts. Fred VanVleet missed six triples and Kawhi Leonard missed seven. Toronto laid a thick layer of bricks to start the third quarter, and following an 18-0 Golden State run, the potential for a 2–0 series lead fell out of reach. Lowry attempted one shot in that faithful third quarter, a missed 27-footer. When a single bucket was needed to stall the storm, he didn’t deliver. Lowry’s pace slowed and his aggression waned. Toronto’s usual spark burnt out with a game-worst minus-17.
The Villanova product must have recharged his batteries on his way to California. Lowry toasted Golden State with 23 points and nine assists on Wednesday, canning five threes in a 123-109 romp and keeping his composure in an incident with Warriors part owner Mark Stevens. Lowry’s energy and decisiveness set the tone for the rest of Toronto’s core. Danny Green poured in six triples, including a pair on back-to-back possessions late in the third quarter. Gasol hoisted 11 shot attempts for the sixth double-digit effort in his 21 postseason games. With Gasol and Lowry, the efficiency isn’t necessarily important; sheer volume serves a purpose.
A slate of factors worked in Lowry’s favor in his Game 3 breakout. Klay Thompson’s absence forced Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green onto Leonard, eliminating an elite back line of defense. Iguodala and Green spent much of Game 2 patrolling the defense from the paint, sagging off non-shooters and rotating with calculated abandon. Thompson’s absence–and DeMarcus Cousins’ glacial foot-speed–forced the Warriors to play whack-a-mole whenever Leonard, Siakam or Gasol attacked the paint. And as the trio attacked Golden State’s interior, Lowry didn’t make the same mistake at Oracle as he did in The Six; he let it fly from deep, banging home critical triples as Golden State struggled to close out late in the shot clock.
Cousins wasn’t the only Warrior gassed in Game 3. Green loafed in key moments as Siakam regained his Game 1 swagger. Quinn Cook remained a defensive sieve and Jonas Jerebko was a turnstile. Any lineup featuring a combination of Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston and Quinn Cook is vulnerable on defense. Strength in Numbers is on its last legs.
Thompson’s return in Game 4 could change the calculus, but Raptors head coach Nick Nurse would be well served to experiment further with the Lowry-VanVleet duo. The pair sports a plus-11.5 net rating in the playoffs when joined by Leonard, scoring 110.1 points per 100 possessions. VanVleet’s freewheeling aggression seems to have a positive effect on Lowry. The Wichita State legend had the ultimate green light from Nurse on Wednesday, unafraid to pull the trigger with a hand in his face. More than a spot-up shooter, VanVleet adds another playmaker into Nurse’s rotation. Perhaps Lowry and VanVleet could join Danny Green if the Warriors go small, though that lineup may get bullied even alongside the board man. The production of VanVleet paired with Lowry is worthwhile though, and a worthy consideration if Nurse needs an offensive bump.
We now enter Friday night three games through the Finals and we seem to know very little from night to night. Siakam and Green have traded dueling duds. DeMarcus Cousins was critical to one win and nearly unplayable in two defeats. Gasol could disappear in Game 4; Lowry, too. Yet the opportunity is there for Toronto to seize a commanding 3–1 lead as the series heads back to Toronto. Every game Kevin Durant spends in the tunnel is a gift for Lowry and Co., another night on an even playing field. The Raptors are in position to remain in Toronto through the summer with a win on Friday night. A repeat performance from Lowry would go a long way to achieving that goal.