It was the Toronto Raptors first game in 145 days, and Kyle Lowry came out with a bang.
Against the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, it was the Raptors’ All-Star point guard who dazzled brightest on Saturday night. He erupted for 33 points and a career-high 14 rebounds while leading the reigning NBA champs to a 107-92 victory.
The Raps’ opening game of the NBA restart was filled with powerful messages against anti-Black racism and it provided a glimpse at a possible Finals matchup. OG Anunoby added 23 points for Toronto while acting as primary defender on James, who led the Lakers with 20 points and 10 boards.
Pascal Siakam added 15 points and Fred VanVleet chipped in with 13 points
Just as the other teams had done on the first two nights of NBA play in the re-start, the Lakers and Raptors all wore Black Lives Matter shirts and knelt arm in arm along the sideline during the pre-game anthems. On this occasion they knelt for two songs -- Star Spangled Banner and O Canada. In a further show of unison, Raptors Coach Nick Nurse and Lakers Coach Frank Vogel linked arms with one another, and shuffled spots so each man connected arms with the other man’s players.
Nurse said as he kneeled, he honoured NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first inspired the anthem demonstrations.
As he has with every one of his on-camera moments within the NBA bubble, Nurse used the moment to express a message. He and his staff members all wore sweaters throughout the game that read VOTE.
The broadcast evening was full of emotional commercial spots for Black Lives Matter, showing players marching in streets and yelling in bullhorns, demanding equality – one message in a unified voice across all NBA teams.
Although happy about the game result, Lowry was focused in his post-game press conference on using his media time to keep the spotlight on social justice messages.
He listed off the things close to his heart: Black Lives Matter, justice for Breonna Taylor, eliminating voter suppression, reforming education.
“These are all things that I gave me going and wanted me to do my job the best I can,” said, donning a Black Lives Matter hat.
Lowry said while kneeling for some four minutes during those anthems, George Floyd’s death ran through his mind, and how a police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.
“To think of a human being kneeling on other human being’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, it’s a bad thought to have, and an unbelievable messed up that man did to an innocent Black man,” Lowry said.
Nurse called Lowry’s performance ‘vintage Lowry’. He hit five three-pointers and added six assists. He got in front of Dion Waiters and drew his 31st charge of the season – a stat that leads the NBA.
The Raps jumped out to a fast 13-0 lead and looked in control, but the contest would get closer and more exciting throughout the night.
L.A. took its first lead of the game early in the second, then took a 44-41 lead into the halftime break in was was at that point a low-scoring game between the league's top two defensive teams.
Lowry's reverse layup midway through the third quarter was the highlight of a 22-3 Raptors run that put them up by 13. But the Lakers were slicing into that lead and it was 72-70 going into the fourth.
James, who Nurse said was like trying to stop a “freight train,” hit back-to-back three-pointers early in the fourth. Then Anunoby answered with a pair of long bombs. The Raps youngster then had a steal and running dunk, as the Raps pulled ahead by 10 with five minutes to play. Lowry’s three over Kyle Kuzma with three minutes remaining seemed to finish the Lakers off.
Anunoby’s play against James further proves how quickly he’s developing.
“OG was unbelievable,” said Lowry. “His growth, his maturity…I’m proud of him. He’s gonna be really good in this league for a long time.”
The gym – although void of any fans – was filled with artificial noise. Music, spotlights, digital fans and pre-recorded chants busied the atmosphere to help create the spectacle for television and make the at-home viewer forget he or she was watching an event scaled down for pandemic-times.
If you go back to March, when the NBA season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Raps are now on a five-game win streak. That gives them a 47-18 record, still good for second place in the Eastern Conference behind the Milwaukee Bucks.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.