Kyle Lowry’s seamless return motivates Raptors’ dominant win over Pacers

Kyle Lowry is back, and he has no chill. In only the first quarter of the Toronto Raptors’ 121-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers, Lowry tested his injured back twice while taking a charge and diving out of bounds after a loose ball. He admitted no ill effects after the game. Lowry picked up directly where he left off pre-injury, hitting triples and spraying the ball around the court to juice the offence. He even barked at a ref after being called for a foul while defending a Domantas Sabonis post-up.

Later in the game, Lowry added stout post defence, brilliant pocket passes, and picturesque outlet passes to the list of his exploits. He finished with 12 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals, but Lowry offers so much more to the team than just numbers.

“Exciting. Exciting. I haven’t had those for a month or two. That was good. Good, easy baskets,” laughed Siakam when asked about the outlet passes.

“He does 4-for-10 [shooting], 12 points, 8 assists, but there’s about 32 other things out there that you’re not seeing that he’s doing that don’t get recorded on the stat sheet,” said Nick Nurse after the game.

“It’s big. That’s our guy. He’s been the leader of the team, and the starting point guard, and kind of like the heartbeat of the team,” added Fred Van Vleet.

Despite Lowry offering the full KLOE package, it was also the surrounding pieces that pushed the Raptors ahead against the Pacers. Van Vleet himself remained a starter, and he matched Lowry’s 8 assists while only committing one turnover. Despite Lowry’s return, Van Vleet spent a great deal of time on the ball, and the offence remained elite. After having some trouble early in the season while handling the rock, especially in the pick-and-roll, Van Vleet has improved recently.

Norman Powell continued his recent blistering stretch of play, driving and shooting confidently. Powell finished the game shooting 10-for-12, including a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc. Powell’s final total of 23 points represented the fourth-most of his career, the most he’s scored since 2017, and the most efficient shooting game he’s ever accomplished (in which he’s attempted more than five shots).

Even more impressive is how Norm earned his baskets. Standstill jumpers are one thing, but when he hits in-rhythm triples on the move and above the arc, Powell’s offensive game transforms into a luxury the size of a California king mattress.

Powell was representative of the bench’s incredibly improved play. Nurse acknowledged pregame that the bench players were frustrated with their poor play in the Milwaukee game. Delon Wright was said to have vocally demanded more of himself and his teammates, and they responded well. The four highest plus-minuses of the game belonged to Powell (+15), OG Anunoby (+14), Wright (+12), and Greg Monroe (+10); as has been too rare so far this season, the Raptors won the game when their bench was on the floor.

Shooting was perhaps the most obvious positive in the game. Danny Green shot 5-for-8 from deep, while Serge Ibaka returned to his natural state of making every possible attempt from the field. Ibaka finished 7-for-9 from the field, despite all but two of his shots coming from outside the paint. (He also collected a pair of monster blocks, one of which resulted in him posing with spread arms and two thumbs down for the camera.) As a unit, the Raptors broke out of a season-long shooting funk, finishing 17-for-33 from behind the arc. Their 17 makes represents the most the Raptors have canned in a game yet this season.

There were some negatives. The Pacers made several runs, including a 9-2 swing to start the third quarter that seemed to deflate the Raptors. Danny Green responded by hitting a huge corner triple to push the Raptors ahead after the Pacers had tied the game at 72. After the Raptors opened the final quarter with lackadaisical offensive play, Norman Powell drained a momentum-swinging triple of his own. The Raptors always had an answer, and it usually came in the form of a long bomb.

On the defensive end, the Raptors were flawed in their first-half approach to the Pacers’ gameplan. They induced the correct analytical shots from Indiana, who attempted 36 midrange jumpers over the course of the game. The only problem was that the Raptors refused to contest any of them in the first half, allowing the Pacers to hit 8 of their first 10 non-paint 2s. The defence tightened up in the second half, and much of that was due to the swarming defence of Wright, Powell, and other bench players.

Regardless, the story of the game was undoubtedly Lowry’s triumphant return to the lineup. He has been missed by the Raptors, as their offensive rating dropped from 112.5 before his December 22 injury to 105.9 since he’s been out of the lineup. As has long been the case, Lowry gives more to this team than meets the eye. Of course, he’s a wonderful playmaker, shooter, and defender. Those are immeasurable. Yet even further, he’s a beloved teammate. His return brought a sense of joy to a good and fun squad that has felt like it’s been running in mud for some games during Lowry’s absence.

“We’ve been trying to manage with him out, but obviously anytime any one of us comes back from injury we are excited, and obviously it’s going to be that much more when your starting point guard and leader of your team is back,” said Van Vleet.

During Lowry’s pregame introduction, the players were happy to hit the deck while the Philadelphian crept forward for his theatrical high-fives. A smile decorated every face, but no grin was larger than Lowry’s.

“It’s always a big deal when you’ve got a guy out and you…get me back, and everybody is happy to see you back. That makes you feel back,” explained Lowry. “It makes you want to do a lot of things to give more of yourself for the team.”

Lowry’s return transformed a ho-hum, second game of a back-to-back, January game into a fun and energetic win, even as Kawhi Leonard sat out. There’s no doubt that a few problems remain for the Raptors. Leonard and Lowry at some point need to play in the same game before they can further their budding chemistry. Jonas Valanciunas’ thumb needs to heal. Despite making 17 triples in this one, shooting may remain a long-term issue. Regardless, those problems vanished for at least one night. Sunday night was a thrill, which is yet more evidence of the magic that Kyle Lowry brings to the hardwood.

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