Kyle Lowry deserves a title.
He’s made his name in the NBA as a permanent grinder and occasional grifter. He’s a permanent workhorse and an occasional scorer. Formerly thought of as a coach killer, he is now considered one of the great leaders in the NBA. Lowry presents himself as a curmudgeon to media members but is universally a beloved teammate, even buying the whole team presents before traveling to Oakland. The team went undefeated in the following two road games, becoming the first team to ever win two consecutive playoff games in Oracle since Steve Kerr become the Golden State Warriors’ coach.
Lowry is nothing if not a paradox. Yet he is everything to Toronto fans. Lowry is the longest-tenured Raptor, and he has come to define the team’s personality during its long transition into a winning team. Raptors fans have a saying: Kyle Lowry Over Everything. KLOE has never been more true than during this Raptors’ playoff run, as the team now sits one win away from an NBA Championship.
Lowry exists as his own engine, a self-contained perpetual motion machine, a constant churn of energy and force. There are no Raptors without Kyle Lowry, and after a previous career played far below his current peak, there is probably no Kyle Lowry without the Raptors. At least not the current Lowry, the five-time all-star who, if the Raptors close this series and win an NBA Championship, will probably end up in the Hall of Fame.
Lowry’s career path was unimaginable before 2012, when he joined the Raptors. But he has never been optimized, peak Lowry, true Lowry, until these NBA Finals.
Watching Lowry play basketball is a study in tiny advantages, imperceptible chances and opportunities that other NBA players generally don’t recognize, let alone we mere mortals watching from the stands and the couch.
Lowry has a constant frenetic energy to his movements, matched only by the Warriors’ Draymond Green. Both are similar in that they think the game far ahead of the action, but Lowry has triumphed so far during this playoff series, proved the more versatile player than the Warriors’ ultimate Swiss Army Knife. If Lowry has a player comparison in this league, it would be Green. They are passionate leaders and ferocious players. They are physical, pass-first, and brilliant. They fill to fit the cracks. Their battles so far during this series have been feats of strength.
And yet Lowry has topped his counterpart in Green largely by virtue of Lowry’s ability to shapeshift into the oldest role known to the game of basketball: a scorer.
In game one, with teammates Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol scoring with ease, Lowry happily blended into the background. He attempted only nine shots while dishing nine assists, and as has become tradition, he led the team (tied) in plus-minus, at +11, despite scoring only seven points.
But in game three, Lowry and the Raptors faced an overmatched opponent, a Warriors team missing talent on both sides of the ball. Lowry transformed into a killer, a scoring monster, scoring 23 points. He hit pull-up jumpers, spinning fadeaways in the midrange, and shot 5-of-9 from deep. It was this form that Green has not been able to achieve for Golden State. Lowry as a scorer still remains fluid. It was difficult to say whether you were watching a ballet or a basketball game. Lowry, of course, finished +14, second-highest on the team.
In game four, the Warriors were desperate. Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney returned from injury. Lowry was brilliant, with his 10 points and seven assists completely – as has also become tradition – understating his contribution to the team’s victory. He finished with 20 potential assists, but his defense was even more impressive. In only the first 80 seconds of the game, Lowry almost tied up Klay Thompson for a jump ball, stole the ball from Thompson, slowed DeMarcus Cousins so Danny Green could chase him down to steal the ball, bodied up Draymond Green to prevent a fast break, and then met Green at the rim in a frantic clash of pure energy sources. The score of the game remained 0-0, and Lowry had his fingerprints all over the muck and grime. Watch Lowry exclusively during this stretch; he has more positive plays than every other player on the court combined.
Lowry thrives in the spaces in between. In fact, he is the spaces in between. He is the crack that appears to sully the facade of the Warriors’ beautiful game. Lowry is the mar, the blemish that distorts and detracts and defiles the game into swirling chaos. Chaos is where these Raptors get their winning done.
Lowry is constantly rushing opponents, but also teammates, and even referees. He tries to accelerate inbounds, cuts, plays, everything on the court, speeding towards any opportunity to harry and harass a game’s natural flow, introducing disorder to the system. His frantic internal pace is unique, a metronome-gone-haywire, like watching a movie through a kaleidoscope. He beats and marches to his own drum, but it’s a funky, syncopated beat that belies his mastery of the genre.
What makes Lowry special is precisely because he doesn’t boast the inhuman strength of Kawhi Leonard, the endless athleticism of Pascal Siakam, or the snarling physicality of Marc Gasol. He’s almost a foot shorter than each of the three. His triumph compared with that of his co-stars is the more human, the more relatable. He’s been struggling, and failing, for Toronto for the longest. And his success could also be called the sweetest. He is the emotional engine of the Raptors, and his actual play is no less stunning than that of his peers despite Lowry’s lack of freakish physical advantages.
Lowry has thus made his weaknesses into his strengths. Those very qualities that make Lowry adored in Toronto make him underrated outside of the city. Greatly as a result, he remains a paradox. Lowry has been permanently entertaining and occasionally transcendent. Lowry has been permanently undersized and occasionally a giant. Lowry is a permanent winner with a chance to be an occasional champion.
This is only one entry in a long line of adulatory odes to Kyle Lowry; we’ve all ready this book before. But with the Raptors one game away from an NBA Championship, this ending could be new. Lowry has battled his way to this peak, and the road has been nothing short of spectacular. It’s time for the destination to equal the journey. Kyle Lowry deserves a title, and we deserve a Lowry Title.