Game 6 Klay has some real competition.
Kyle Lowry added to the mystique of his playoff resume and Game 6 performances with a gargantuan 53 minute, 33 point, eight rebound, six assist, two steal performance to lead the Toronto Raptors to a double-overtime 125-122 victory in Game 6, forcing a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in what has already proven to be a series for the ages.
What has been most impressive, to me, about Lowry’s performances in this series is not just that he has identified his need to be a scorer — in addition to everything else he provides — in this series, but that he has found different ways of getting it done in each game. With their backs against the wall in Game 3, Lowry attacked the rim time and time again to finish with 20 of his 31 points in the paint. In Game 4, the Celtics made a more concerted effort to get to the paint so he knocked four of his 10 three-point attempts but still found a way to get to the line eight times.
Here in Game 6, Lowry had several bodies impeding any kind of progress in the paint so he killed them from the outside, knocking down six 3-pointers as well as several shots from the mid-range that included the final knockout blow.
Let’s get into all of another masterful performance from the Greatest Raptor of All-Time:
Before we get into the offence, Lowry made some big time plays defensively as he always will. The plays below highlight all of what he brings on that end of the floor: smarts, positioning, timing, and brilliant hands.
Specifically looking at Play 3 (0:24), Lowry knows the odds of him getting called for a foul if he swipes down are extremely high and so he swipes upwards, making it clear as day that it was a clean play — even if Marc Gasol took a shot to the face — and takes what likely would have been two points for Kemba Walker.
The final play is straight clutch. Stuck two with under three minutes remaining, Brown has been getting his shot up over you off these post-ups all series and so you take a bit of a gamble and slap it out of his hands.
“Yeah, we’re trying to get our hands in and break up hand-offs and if we think we’ve got a chance to strip the ball,” Nick Nurse said after the game. “Sometimes when you’re smaller, you’re down there, right, and they’ve got these guys there trying to post you up and shoot over top of you and once they turn around it’s kinda your last line of defence, right, because if they get it up they’re going to be over the top of you.
“Just trying to survive sometimes out there, too.”
Unlike the first couple games of the series, Lowry did not spend a lot of time defending isolations. And that probably makes a lot of sense considering you want to maximize his reserves for the offensive end of the floor. That being said, Lowry was still doing everything he possibly could as a help defender, presenting himself as a body on drives to the paint and then hustling back to the perimeter to contest.
The main play I want to focus on here is No. 6 (0:58) and it’s not so much about Lowry but the team’s principles itself, specifically closing out extremely hard in late clock scenarios. It’s one thing if there’s a second or two left on the clock and the opponent has no choice but to go up, but in those 2-6 second scenarios, a bit more discipline may be a better option as the Raptors have committed some unnecessary three-shot fouls as well as just allowed their opponent a little pump-fake to get an open shot.
Toronto uses a lot of variations in its defensive schemes but the hard close-out is something that is extremely consistent and therefore expected. In longer clock scenarios you can rely on the rotations to be there and for a teammate to help out, but after several proper rotations the chances of a mistake and failed rotation at the back-end of a play do increase. At the same time, if the opposing offence does show that degree of patience you also have to tip your hat.
Look at Lowry get up here to ensure Daniel Theis doesn’t get the rebound. He knows he’s not catching it, but finds a way to do just enough to tap it away into space for Fred VanVleet to collect.
And here’s another example of playing bigger than he is. Stuck on Theis inside, he does absolutely everything in his power to box out Theis and ensure he doesn’t get it. “If I’m not getting it, you’re not getting it, either!”
LOWRY KEEPING TEAM ALIVE FROM DEEP
There are threes, there are F.U. threes, and then there are big balls of steel threes. Lowry was unconscious from the outside in this one and when he’s just rising up off the catch with no hesitation, no hint of looking for a teammate, you know the opponent’s in trouble.
It was nice for Gasol to find some life in this one and the pick-and-pop game with Serge Ibaka is always strong, but it was especially nice to see the chemistry Lowry and OG Anunoby showed in screening action as the Raptors went small for pretty much the entire fourth quarter and two overtimes.
The final two plays have to be especially encouraging since the Celtics were clearly refusing to be beat by a Lowry 3-pointer off the high screen. Daring Anunoby to make plays, the all-world defender who is making people remember his name this series did exceedingly well to attack off the catch (1:00) and kick out to Norman Powell for the three first, then stuck the 3-pointer he was presented immediately after because he doesn’t shoot to miss.
I highlighted the importance of Lowry establishing the mid-range in my Game 3 breakdown and it was great to see him carry over that success to this game. A shot spectrum of primarily consisting of 3-pointers and paint baskets will get you a long way over an 82-game sample but when it comes to the post-season, you have to be ready to take what the defence gives you.
Lowry had the rim taken away from him for the most part, and so any refusal to take those shots in between would have left the Raptors struggling. The first play is an example of the 3-point shot being taken away from him on one of Nurse’s pet plays to get him open but Lowry stays aggressive and gets off a mid-range look. Can’t complain about the miss outside of maybe needing some player movement from his teammates, that’s a look he needs to continue to be ready to take.
You see his ability to back down a smaller player like Walker as well, and when he was able to secure that matchup with under 30 seconds remaining in the second overtime, the odds seemed well in the Raptors’ favour.
“I think Kyle’s got a good post-up turnaround game. We used to post him a lot a couple years ago. We just haven’t done that as much anymore. He found a few tonight. He found a few middle-of-the-floor isos. He obviously made some huge ones, right, especially the last one. Holy smokes, that was a tough one.”
That was about as tough as it gets, but that’s Lowry: tough as nails and giving his team everything he possibly can to live to fight another day. It’s ultimately what the series has come down to, the Celtics at their best have looked too good for the Raptors, but Lowry keeps reminding anyone who’s watched how much more there is to the game than just raw talent. He is a supreme shooter and he’s got a galaxy brain with no off-switch (as we saw when he expressed his frustration with Nurse calling a timeout at the end of the game) with an elite level of competitiveness that leaves anyone who refuses to rise up in the dust.
“Kyle’s been big time all year and all my five years here, making big plays, giving up his body for the team, taking charges out on the floor, and we need that,” Powell said after the game. “He’s our leader. We go as he goes. He did a great job in crunch time keeping us calm and getting us into our sets, making big plays, passes, shots. That’s what K-Low does and we need him to continue to do it.”