Dave Feschuk: ‘He’s a leader.’ Kyle Lowry lights a fire under the Heat in a season-opening win the Bucks won’t soon forget
|Toronto Star 22 Oct 2021 at 05:50|
MIAMI—At his best as a member of the Toronto Raptors , Kyle Lowry had a big hand in delivering the knockout blow to the reeling Golden State Warriors in a championship-clinching Game 6 back in 2019.
A mere season opener offers no such opportunity for a career-defining statement. But if Lowry ended his nine-year run with the Raptors in part because the Miami Heat sold a vision of a roster stocked with like-minded “winners” — savvy competitors who care less about their stat line than the scoreboard — Lowry’s first game with his new team was an awfully loud announcement of the Heat’s lofty intent.
For Lowry, it certainly didn’t look like much on the stat sheet — a 1-for-8 shooting night for five points along with a ho-hum six assists. But for Miami, it was a doozy on the scoreboard. The Heat didn’t simply beat the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. They ran them out of the building from the game’s opening throes, taking a lead as big as 25 points in the first quarter en route to a 137-95 win — no less than the second-biggest margin of victory in franchise history run up against the team that swept Miami in the first round of the playoffs last season.
And as much as a handful of Miami’s high scorers commanded the spotlight for their statistical contributions in front of a raucous crowd at FTX Arena, it said something that each of those players gave credit to the new starting point guard for helping them succeed.
It wasn’t just about one night’s worth of stats. Tyler Herro, who led Miami with 27 points off the bench, gushed about the value of the everyday presence of Lowry’s basketball IQ — the likes of which Herro said he’d never played alongside during his previous two years in the league.
“The way that Kyle gets everyone to their spots, how he’s a leader — he just understands the game at a level that not many people do,” said Herro. “So just being able to play with him and learn from him and just being next to him is obviously amazing for me.”
Bam Adebayo, the all-star centre who chipped in 20 points, was asked about his noticeably aggressive approach on the offensive end and cited Lowry’s influence.
“It’s really because of Kyle, in all honesty,” Adebayo said. “The way he pitches the ball ahead, the way he keeps the pace going. He knows how to get other people involved, and his biggest thing is to get me and Jimmy to our spots.”
And as for the aforementioned Jimmy — Heat all-star Jimmy Butler and Lowry have been close friends for years. If Butler has in the past been saddled with the sometimes onerous task of creating tough shots out of nothing as Miami’s primary scorer, on Thursday Butler’s 21 points looked eaiser than usual, coming as they did on a mere 10 field-goal attempts.
“(Playing with Lowry), I think I get to focus on putting the ball in the basket a lot more,” Butler said. “I like that. I work on it consistently … With Kyle playing the way he plays, it gives everyone freedom to just hoop.”
It was one game, of course. And certainly the Bucks were missing key components of their championship mix, among them Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday, who were both out with injuries in the wake of an impressive season-opening win over the Brooklyn Nets, and P.J. Tucker, a Bucks mainstay last season, who started at power forward for the Heat and played a ferocious brand of defence from the opening tip.
If Tucker, the former Raptors second-round pick, has expressed the lack of appreciation he felt from Milwaukee in free agency — “Honestly, you want to go places where you’re wanted,” he said this week — he’s been welcomed with open arms by the Heat, who gave him a two-year deal worth $14.4 million (U.S.).
“He’s so inspiring,” Erik Spoelstra, Miami’s head coach, said of Tucker. “Heat Nation was able to see this tonight. He’s literally like this in every single practice. You have to, like, dial him down.”
The Heat, though they reside in a tropical fantasyland of idyllic sandy beaches and swaying palms, can make a case as the NBA’s most earnest organization. They bill themselves, on their own pre-game banner ad, as the “Hardest Working, Best Conditioned, Most Professional, Unselfish, Toughest, Meanest, Nastiest Team in the NBA.” And they’ve spent the pre-season lauding Lowry’s “bulldog” tendencies as a perfect fit for their vaunted culture.
As in Toronto, Lowry’s first game in Miami saw his hyper-combative streak occasionally directed at the referees. Lowry spent part of the game’s first timeout pantomiming a complaint to an official while his teammates were ensconced in a huddle. And even after Herro nailed a 40-foot buzzer beater to give the Heat a resounding 40-17 lead at the end of the first quarter, Lowry eschewed the group high-fives to resume his dialogue with the officiating crew.