It started with a give-and-go and ended with a thunderous jam, silencing the restless crowd inside Miami’s American Airlines Arena. For a brief moment, Raptors’ point guard Kyle Lowry was unstoppable; knifing and carving his 6’0” frame to victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Lowry’s resounding performance, one that flashed signs of brilliance by pouring out 33 points, came at a time of need for Toronto. Because coming into Game 3, Lowry was a career 34 percent playoff shooter, and beforehand was shooting 31 percent in these playoffs. But on Saturday, he flipped the script connecting on 11 of 19 shots, going 5/8 from 3-point range.
“I felt like it was just a matter of time,” Lowry said.
Toronto has moiled past these playoffs almost making things more difficult than it necessarily should be — taking a full seven games to finally extinguish Paul George and the relentless Indiana Pacers in the first round — notching the franchise’s first playoff series win in 15 years.
But there’s more. The Raptors, despite all of the growth that’s been made this postseason, is surviving with inept team shooting and no secondary scoring off the bench. This inefficient shooting has lingered into star SG DeMar DeRozan’s play and has for much of this season. DeRozan, whose game entirely revolves around isolation and penetration, two traits, that when on makes him one of the most explosive shooting guards in basketball.
DeRozan made a living from inside the restricted area this regular season, making 60.9 percent of his shots. But not so much in the playoffs, only shooting 40.0 percent. By even showing a little more physicality in the paint, DeRozan has regressed significantly from within 10-14 ft, shooting just 30.8 percent compared to his 52.1 percent during the regular season.
Things haven’t improved once DeRozan becomes double-teamed along the perimeter. This, so far has been problematic against Miami, which has either forced him to pass it to a contested spot on the floor with no action present or bomb away from 3, two instances that DeRozan doesn’t want to be doing anywhere. Shown by the shot chart below, it reveals the steep decline of offensive production when DeRozan is forced to work from midrange and out.
Thankfully, this doesn’t tell how atrocious of a shooter DeRozan is beyond the perimeter, as he’s nailed just 16.7 percent of threes this postseason. Furthermore, this explains how much of a compliment he is to Lowry, drawing closer with efficient production.
The devastating news involving Jonas Valancianus and his absence for the remainder of the conference semifinals due to a sprained ankle doesn’t help matters for Toronto. The burgeoning center has become an integral spark for the Raptors off the bench, who in his fourth-year in the league might have scratched segments of his potential this postseason. Valancianus has averaged 15.0 points off 55 percent shooting from the field, with 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 28.5 minutes in 10 playoff games this season. In the series versus the Heat, he has averaged 18.3 points on 64.9 percent from the floor, 12.7 rebounds, 1.33 blocks and 33.7 minutes in three contests.
This is a deficit that Toronto undoubtedly doesn’t need, leaving stars Lowry and DeRozan more work to carry on their already strained shoulders. While the Raptors have pieces that can sort out their confusion, the quantity is slim. Forwards DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson, size in all, can match Valancianus’ aggressiveness on the glass, but not on the score sheet, as the two combined are averaging 14 points per game.
But for now, all of the pressure resides on Lowry. The 30-year old out of Philadelphia, who during these playoffs has been unpredictable scoring wise must rise to the occasion for Toronto. Essentially, Lowry must be bigger than the franchise’s prohibitive downfall: falling short when it matters the most.
Early stages of this year’s playoffs haven’t been that all smooth for Lowry. While still productive, his shooting numbers, just like DeRozan has been less than optimal. Outside of his breakout Game 3 performance, Lowry hadn’t made ten field goals in a playoff game ever.
This is something that Lowry addressed in the postgame, following a series shifting win on Saturday.
“I’ve gone through it all, coming up short of my goals.” “But I know what it takes to keep playing at this stage of the game and making critical shots is part of it.”
Just like every Raptor player, Lowry wants nothing more than to extend Toronto’s playoff lives. Head coach Dwane Casey knows it, he even acknowledged Lowry even through the bad times this postseason.
“I’ve never lost faith in him.” “He’s struggled, but he’s fought so so hard when we need him the most, that’s what you get from Kyle.”
There’s no telling how long Lowry can keep up his excellent burst of shooting, or how much help he’ll receive from his counterparts. But regardless, one thing that will always stay true is that the Raptors will stand by Lowry, through the ups or downs.