The Toronto Raptors completed their first playoff sweep in club history on Sunday and earned an Eastern Conference semi-final matchup with the Boston Celtics. But they also watched Kyle Lowry hobble off the floor hurt.
The No. 2-seeded Raptors clobbered the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets 150-122 to wrap up their first-round best-of-seven series 4-0. Yet, the status of their all-star point guard is unknown after he left the game with what originally looked like an ankle injury.
The alarming moment happened just nine minutes in, when Lowry rolled his left ankle gruesomely as he stepped on the foot of Brooklyn’s Chris Chiozza while dribbling into traffic. Lowry skidded to the floor in pain, got back up and limped through a few seconds of play before he pulled himself out and hopped gingerly back to the locker room.
Lowry did not return to the game. He left the building to get diagnostic imaging elsewhere within the NBA campus. It’s unclear when he can return to the floor for the reigning champs. Coach Nick Nurse said after the game that Lowry was having an MRI on the arch of his foot.
“It will be good to get everybody a couple of days off their feet to re-energize and find out what’s happening with our leader Kyle,” Nurse said.
Norman Powell scored a postseason franchise record 29 points off the bench to lead Toronto in the win. Serge Ibaka had 27 points with 15 rebounds, while Pascal Siakam had 20 with a career-high 10 assists. The Raps had an astounding 100 points from their bench – which sets a new NBA record.
After Lowry left the game, the Raps called on rookie Terence Davis to fill Lowry’s ball-handling duties and run the floor for the rest of the first half while VanVleet sat with three fouls. Davis went on to a 14-point night. The team had a monster 39 assists even without Lowry.
“Well, I won’t be very comfortable without Kyle out there, I’ll say that,” said Nurse when asked how he would feel if Lowry is out for a while. “Somebody has has gotta take shots and play defence and play tough and do the things he does and make up for it. Or we do it by committee, that’s probably a better way.”
With his reserves playing hot, Toronto Coach Nick Nurse leaned on Ibaka, Powell and Matt Thomas as well, and they steered toward a 77-68 half-time lead.
VanVleet started the second half with Powell as his backcourt mate. VanVleet had nine points while only having to play less than 19 minutes.
Caris LeVert had his best game of the series for Brooklyn – scoring 35 points -- but it wasn’t nearly enough to help the Nets contend.
The sweep came one day after Nurse was named NBA Coach of the Year. His high school coach Wayne Chandlee delivered the news to Nurse by a surprise video during a live interview the Raps coach was doing with the NBA on TNT. Then Lowry and VanVleet popped up beside Nurse for another surprise -- to present him with the Red Auerbach Trophy. Toronto’s coach said he enjoyed a flood of well-wishes from people on Saturday, and that all that emotional excitement had him so tired out, he fell asleep by 9:30pm.
Nurse won the award by a huge margin, receiving 90 first-place votes from a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters, and finished with 470 points. Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer was second in voting (147 points), and Oklahoma City's Billy Donovan (134 points) was third.
It was a chance to reflect on the many countries and leagues where he has coached basketball in his life, from small universities to Europe and the NBA’s development league.
“I thought if I ever got a chance to become a head coach, a lot of the things that I tried in some of those back-water places I thought maybe would still work,” said Nurse.
The coach admitted before the game that having a chance to sweep was a new feeling for him. He reminded the press that his Raptors often made it tough on themselves in last year’s playoffs
Before the Raptors took the floor, they knew the No.3-seeded Celtics had swept the No. 6-seeded Philadelphia 76ers earlier on Sunday.
The Raptors and Celtics have never met before in the postseason. Toronto was 1-3 against Boston during the regular season.
“It’s going to be a good series. I’m kind of bummed that we are not going to have the fans down there at TD Garden or what our fans bring at Scotiabank,” said Powell. “We are two teams that are very deep and very talented and it’s going to take everyone on our end to pull this one out.”