It must be nice playing alongside Kyle Lowry.
Few players in the NBA seem to get the most out of their teammates as consistently as the Toronto Raptors' frontman. It's not just that Lowry leads the Raptors in assists, it's how he goes about getting those assists and who they're to. It's as if he does all the work for his big men, directing them perfectly through the pick-and-roll and then delivering the ball like a quarterback right into the hands of an open receiver. Just his presence alone proved decisive for the Raptors in a 112-96 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night.
Lowry's high-level facilitating is something Serge Ibaka took advantage of for years. The 35-year-old threw more passes to Ibaka last season than anyone else on the team and hooked up with the former Raptor for 2.1 buckets per game.
This year those passes have been hard to come by for Lowry. Aron Baynes constantly fumbled his passes and Chris Boucher wasn't an inside threat the way Ibaka was. It wasn't until recently, when the Raptors added Khem Birch, a true NBA centre, that Lowry's full playmaking prowess was fully realized.
"I like the little synergy those two have," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Lowry and Birch. "I think Khem’s quick into the screens, he’s quick out of them. Kyle’s kind of throwing them, you know, lofting them up there and Khem’s going to get them."
Lowry and Birch picked apart the Cavaliers' defence all night, hooking up for five of Lowry's 10 assists.
“I’m trying to get him paid," Lowry joked. "That’s what I try to do, I try to get my teammates paid and help us win games and make sure everyone around me is successful. I think he is a talented kid and he has this opportunity where he can be successful so why not try to make him be successful."
Lowry alone assisted on almost a quarter of Toronto's made buckets and could have had more if the Raptors had a few more of their 3-point shots fall on Monday.
"I say this a lot, guys can play good even when they don't shoot it well and that was the case for Kyle tonight," Nurse said.
The second quarter alone was a perfect example of just how important Lowry's presence on the court is to making bench units more impactful. After mustering an 11-point first-quarter lead, the Raptors strangely turned to an all-bench lineup without Lowry.
It did not go well.
But it was a mistake Nurse wouldn't make again. When he was forced to go to the bench again late in the third with an eight-point lead, he opted to go with the classic Lowry and the bench lineup. It wasn't entirely pretty, but thanks to Lowry and some heads-up basketball from Stanley Johnson, Toronto finished the quarter up 11.
"They came to life in the second half," Nurse said of his bench. "They gotta score, they got to score some, and that was good to see tonight. I thought they, I thought the whole group actually from Malachi, Yuta, Freddie, Stanley all brought energy and a little scoring with them too."
It was a lead the Raptors wouldn't squander.
Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby scored 25 and 20 points, respectively.
With the win and some help from the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto moved just one game back of the Washington Wizards for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and the final spot in the play-in tournament.
Up Next: Brooklyn Nets
The Raptors are about to enter the NBA gauntlet starting on Tuesday when they take on the Brooklyn Nets in Tampa. After that, it'll be a trip to the West Coast to start a stretch that includes Denver, Utah, and both Los Angeles teams.