Dave Feschuk: Raptors will need points from point guard Kyle Lowry to hold off Magic
|Toronto Star 15 Apr 2019 at 16:24|
Now that we’ve had what seems like a week to digest it, let’s dispense with the bizarro-world nonsense about Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry putting in a “terrific” performance in a Game 1 loss to the Magic.
“Terrific” was the word used Monday by Orlando coach Steve Clifford, who waxed deferentially about all the great things Lowry did for Toronto’s NBA team. You know the numbers now — eight assists, seven rebounds, just two turnovers. And it should be said with sincerity: All those numbers were terrific.
But as for the matter of Lowry’s zero points on 0-for-7 shooting from the field — those bits of the boxscore could only be considered “terrific” if you were the Magic coach. Which you’d think would be obvious to everyone.
But even the 33-year-old Lowry was trying to advance the apologist’s narrative on Monday. He was trying but failing, mind you.
“Me not scoring any points doesn’t mean I didn’t affect the game,” Lowry said.
Exactly. It means you effectively gifted it to the Magic.
Look, nobody’s saying Lowry is the sole reason the Raptors find themselves down a game against a seventh seed in a first-round series in which they’re heavily favoured. But somebody needs to say this: If Lowry is not more aggressive and more effective in Game 2 and beyond, the Magic have a great chance of making this thing way more interesting than anyone figured it ought to be.
If your point guard, who also happens to be one of your two all-stars, is as passive as Lowry was in Game 1, you’ve got a problem. If he reduces himself to a stand-still shooter, rarely ventures into the paint, shoots just two free throws, and isn’t quick enough to guard his counterpart, D.J. Augustin, who was checked mostly by Danny Green as the game wore on — you’re in tough. A point guard on an alleged championship contender has to give his team more than Lowry gave the Raptors in Game 1.
If you don’t believe me, believe Steve Nash, who was talking about this very topic for a piece by Kevin Arnovitz on ESPN.com.
“(As point guard) you’re still the head of the snake, so the health of your team, and its spirit, has a disproportionate weight and responsibility on your shoulders,” the hall-of-fame point guard said. “But the way these guys play today is different. I came into a league built on the philosophy that a point guard was running the team, controlling the tempo, making your teammates better, organizing, and doing all of those things. But today, point guards are asked to be aggressive and score. You have to maintain the balance between efficiency and scoring.”
And if you’re not aggressive and you don’t score? Your team is playing with a powerful hand tied behind its back. Which is what Green was saying Monday in the nicest way possible.
“We really don’t need (Lowry) to score — obviously it would be great if he did — but we need his leadership, his offensive pushing the pace and getting the ball up the floor, and defensively doing little things and rebounding,” Green said. “But regardless of that, we are going to need him to be aggressive as well. And I think that starts early for him. Start off aggressive early on, because I think defences are adjusting to him not being as aggressive, and it’s allowing them to play in the paint a little bit more. If we get him aggressive early, I think he’ll get in a bit of a rhythm a lot better, a lot sooner, and we won’t have to worry about him thinking about making or missing shots.”
Lowry acknowledged as much: “I’ve just gotta make sure I’m more aggressive. I think in the situation that we’re in, the way they’re guarding me, I can look to score a lot more.”
Which brings us to some key questions in the lead-up to Game 2: Does the late-career version of Lowry, who’s battled back problems and ankle problems this season, still possess the ability to balance a credible offensive thrust with his team’s other needs?
Certainly he hasn’t been drawing fouls in the lane like he once did, which is one measure that suggests a decrease in his willingness to attack. Just two seasons ago Lowry averaged about eight free-throw attempts a game. This season he averaged about four. On Saturday he attempted just one shot in the paint, which he missed. He also heard a feint murmur of home-crowd boos after he missed his sixth straight three-ball.
Even if he makes a three-pointer or two on Saturday, Lowry’s lack of interior probing is troubling in a league in which turning the corner on the pick-and-roll is a staple, where the inside-out, drive-and-kick attack is essential. But getting inside takes some actual work against the lane-clogging Magic. They gave up an average of 7.7 points a game on drives this season, third-fewest in the league. So the easier alternative — and the one Clifford will happily praise the Raptors for taking — is standing around the perimeter, which is what Lowry opted to do Saturday.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Monday that he should take “some responsibility” for Lowry’s blank shooting night.
“I thought we had Kyle in a really good place all the last half of the season … Obviously he wasn’t in a good enough place to impact the game on the scoreboard the other night,” Nurse said. “I’ve got to do everything I can do to help him succeed.”
History suggests the turnaround isn’t always imminent for Toronto’s No. 7. As much as Lowry has become accustomed to the skepticism that’s come with his part in Toronto’s uncanny history of subpar Game 1s, he hasn’t always responded well individually in Game 2s. In five opening-round Game 2s as a Raptor, he’s shot an underwhelming 36 per cent from the field while going 3-for-22 from three-point range.
The last time the Raptors found themselves in a situation like this, after Lowry shot a dismal 2-for-11 in a playoff-opening loss against the Bucks a couple of years ago, Lowry responded with a solid 22 points in a Game 2 win. And he did something else his team would welcome Tuesday night: He got to the free-throw line with regularity, going 8-for-9 from the stripe.
“It’s happened before,” Lowry said Monday, speaking of another in a line of slow starts in the post-season. “I play the right way. I’m a guy that plays basketball the right way … So that’s why the mental game doesn’t really matter. For me, I play the game the right way and missed some shots, and we lost, so it looks worse.”
Unless Lowry starts making himself a more consistent threat to score, there’s no guarantee it’s going to look better.