Kyle Lowry made his return from an 11-game injury layoff and nearly helped spark a come-from-behind victory over the Miami Heat, but the Toronto Raptors fell short in overtime.
After a feisty fourth-quarter comeback by the Raptors, Heat star Jimmy Butler stole the spotlight in overtime on a 22-point night and delivered a 121-110 victory for Miami. It snapped the Raptors’ perfect record at home, making it 9-1.
Norman Powell led the Raptors with 23 points, including a go-ahead three-pointer with 42 seconds left in the game – his fourth of the night from beyond the arc. Lowry contributed 11 assists and six rebounds, but had a rusty 2-of-18 shooting night for 12 points in his first game since a thumb injury on Nov. 8.
Fred VanVleet had 19 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Pascal Siakam added 15 in a rough 5-of-14 performance from the field while being tightly defended by Miami’s Bam Adebayo.
Tuesday’s result now sees the Raptors and Heat with matching 15-5 records in the Eastern Conference standings, both sitting beneath the first-place Milwaukee Bucks (18-3).
Lowry had been out since fracturing his left thumb against the New Orleans Pelicans and practiced for the first time on Monday. He spiced up the pre-game introductions with his usual act – high-fiving teammates who form a welcome line and greet him while doing sit-ups, push-ups and various other exercises as his name is bellowed out by the public announcer. The fans roared for him.
In the eight games Lowry played before the injury the five-time NBA All-Star had averaged 21.8 points, with 6.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He and VanVleet started Tuesday’s game in the backcourt together, as they had earlier this season, and shared the ball-handling duties.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said the return of Lowry makes it easier to substitute VanVleet and Siakam in and out of games. He had been trying to keep at least one of those two on the floor at all times while Lowry was sidelined to keep a solid ballhandler on the court. That had been sometimes difficult.
Lowry spent time quarterbacking Toronto’s bench unit too during the night – playing with Serge Ibaka, Terence Davis, Powell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. While his shot wasn’t falling, the veteran point guard kept contributing elsewhere – more assists, rebounds and defensive help. He played 41 minutes.
Lowry called his shooting performance “terrible,” but not concerning.
“That’s rhythm. I missed shots, I didn’t force anything, everything I shot came within the offence and honestly a lot of those threes went in and out, lay-ups. It’s just rhythm and a little bit of timing,” he said after the game. “Honestly I haven’t done basketball-type playing since New Orleans so it takes a game, but I’m sure I’ll be better next game. It’s nothing to be concerned or worried about.”
Lowry was averaging 36 minutes per game before the injury. Nurse said he would like to bring minutes down for both him and VanVleet to keep them fresh for the playoffs. That should be easier, the coach noted, now that players down the bench have proven they deserve minutes.
“I think we’ve historically known that Kyle’s operated best for a full season when he gets around the 32-, 33-minute mark … probably similar for Fred,” Nurse said.
Two shots finally fell for Lowry from the field in the fourth quarter, and he also bullied his way to the free-throw line repeatedly, resulting in a 10-point quarter as the Raps challenged for the lead. He assisted on Powell’s critical three-ball, too.
Lowry’s shots wouldn’t fall in overtime though, and Marc Gasol and VanVleet failed to hit their attempts too, as the Raps went scoreless from the field in the extra frame and were out-done 13-2.
Butler – who joined the Heat as a free agent in the off-season – dominated the overtime period, scoring eight points. Heat rookie Duncan Robinson added 22 on the night, including six three-pointers.
Powell remained in with starters down the stretch, despite being pushed out of the starting lineup due to Lowry’s return. “I just thought Norm was one of the few guys who had a good offensive game going there,” Nurse said.
Now nearly back to full strength (Matt Thomas is still out with a finger injury), the Raps must regain their chemistry with star pieces back in the fold.
The team is in the thick of a challenging stretch in their schedule, with games in the next week against a few of the league’s top-performing teams. They play host to the Houston Rockets Thursday, before visiting the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers, and then welcome back former star and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and his LA Clippers next Wednesday.