Pros like to talk about entering their “playoff mode.” Kyle Lowry’s must work a little like Ctrl+Alt+Delete. When the post-season starts, he shuts off and on a few times in order to get things running again.
Saturday’s Game 1 was one of Lowry’s low-power mode games. He wasn’t the only malefactor, but he was the most obvious.
As a result, the Toronto Raptors lost 104-101 to the Orlando Magic. No, really. They did. No, I’m not sure either. But it happened. I was there.
Lowry played 34 minutes and did not score a single point. That is so unusual in basketball, it’s almost an achievement.
Toronto was decently organized when Lowry was on the court, but in the end it all went sideways. Lowry’s errant pass with a couple of minutes left sparked a breakaway that put Orlando up. When the winning three-pointer was scored by Magic point guard D.J. Augustin, Lowry was standing under the basket watching it go in. He’d long since waved the white flag on that match-up.
The two other guys assigned to it – Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol – got their wires crossed and conspired to screw it up. It was that sort of evening.
How bad was this? Five-time all-star Kyle Lowry was outplayed by five-time coffee-of-the-month recipient D.J. Augustin.
Afterward, Lowry fell back into another of his playoff modes – spinning wheel of death.
“I got some looks and missed them,” he said. “That’s about it.”
The whole zero points thing was such a poor look that, though no one asked him about it, Raptors coach Nick Nurse felt the need to defend the fact that he’d had Lowry in for the final minutes.
“I thought he was a positive factor in the game,” Nurse said, pointing to Lowry’s plus-minus numbers. “Which is why we went with him.”
If that was obfuscation, it was probably a good idea because Nurse didn’t exactly distinguish himself either.
In his first-ever playoff game as an NBA head coach, Nurse forgot something fairly important – to play his best player.
Kawhi Leonard was a monster from the tip. He went to the bench with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. He didn’t re-enter the game until halfway through the second. When he returned, he was stone cold and his team fell into lethargy.
Though easily Toronto’s most impactful presence overall, Leonard played only 33 minutes. Pascal Siakam played more than 42.
Asked about it afterward, Nurse was blasé.
“No reason for [holding Leonard out],” he said. “Yeah, he could have gone a bit longer.”
After seeming to explain that he’d only noticed how little his superstar played after looking at the post-game stats sheet, Nurse said, “We should have had him out there a bit more.”
Nurse may be looking for another pronoun there. Something more in the style of first-person singular.
Though it was an ugly outing, it isn’t a disaster. Orlando is not Cleveland. D.J. Augustin is not LeBron James.
Toronto will have to try very hard to lose three more games to the Magic. Had they eliminated a gruesome two-and-a-half-minute stretch in the second quarter – during which Orlando put up 15 unanswered points – they’d have won it easily.
The Raptors shooting luck was atrocious. They didn’t make threes or free throws. They handled the ball like it was greased. And Lowry’s miserable playoff reputation has been earned intermittently. He’s never steadily bad. History has proven he will be better. Probably.
Toronto should still win this series. They may still win it easily.
The takeaway from Game 1 has little to do with this series. It’s the on-down-the-road you begin to worry about.
Despite all the newcomers, this team still carries around a reputation for bad post-season juju. Its string of April disappointments is notorious around the NBA. A game like this one sets a tone. A terrible tone.
Whatever hope Toronto had of projecting strength to future opponents is gone. This first impression will last.
So much for intimidation. So much for changing minds. And so much for rewriting history with bold strokes.
It could’ve been fun for a bit at the beginning. Waving their arms and sweeping people aside. Looking imperious for once.
But now – just three hours into what they hope will be weeks of effort – the Raptors are already grinding.