For the second time this season the Toronto Raptors were without their All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry and for the second time they lost. Just like last season, this team looks very ordinary without him.
There is no reason to dismiss the efforts of the Celtics in their 91-79 home victory over the Lowry-less Raptors or the earlier Pistons 114-101 home win. Both of these teams are currently in a playoff spot and sweeping a season series against any team in your own conference is never easy or just expected. However, the Raptors are a lot better than at any time in their franchise history and have a legitimate shot at first place in the East. The drop off after Cleveland and Toronto is pretty significant.
The drop off in the Raptors capabilities without Lowry in the lineup may be just as significant for Toronto.
“We had trouble scoring,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the loss in Boston.
“It’s day and night,” DeMar DeRozan said. “I think every team when they have key players out (there’s) going to be some type of difference.”
The Raptors are built around the two-headed monster of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the fifth (21.9 points) and second (23.7 points) highest scorers in their conference respectively and the highest scoring duo (45.6 points) in the East. The Cavaliers LeBron James (1st) and Kyrie Irving (11th) have 44.5 points combined.
However, in Toronto, it’s Lowry who stirs the drink for the Raptors and has been his team’s highest scorer since the NBA All-Star Weekend ended at 25.1 points per game. He’s also been the leading scorer in the Eastern Conference since the break. DeRozan almost keeping pace at 24.6 points and the ever consistent James (24.7) in-between them.
Lowry provides more than just points for the Raptors, however. He’s earned the “Bulldog” nickname he hates with his aggressive play and ability to make it “Lowry-time” in the second half of games.
As much as the Raptors rely on DeRozan’s ability to get to the free throw line – and DeRozan is among the very best in the Association at this – Lowry is actually a little better than his backcourt mate at drawing fouls. Sixth in the NBA and first in the East at 5.8 fouls drawn per game, Lowry drives other teams crazy with his aggressive play.
While DeRozan is right behind him with 5.7 fouls drawn, Lowry creates the offensive fouls that get his team the extra possessions needed to win games.
It’s the defensive ability Lowry brings to the table that helps Toronto get extra points. He is ninth in the NBA in scoring points off of turnovers (3.9) and it’s the creation of those easy points that often takes the heart out of the opponent in the second half of games. Being the NBA steals leader (2.2 per game tied with Chris Paul), helps.
It’s not totally fair to use the results of just two games to illustrate the difference in the Raptors play with and without Lowry, but what happened in Boston and Detroit was predictable.
On average this season the Raptors benefit from 13.6 opponent turnovers and 22.3 opponent fouls. In Boston, their opponent had 8 turnovers and 18 fouls. In Detroit, the Pistons had 10 turnovers and 20 fouls. Those were pretty good numbers compared to their season averages (Boston 13.8/22.1, Detroit 13.6/19.3).
As Casey likes to say, when a starter sits, it’s good experience for the next man up. But while veteran Jason Thompson can be expected to do a good job covering for Patrick Patterson and veteran James Johnson (with help) can do a solid job of covering for DeMarre Carroll, it isn’t quite the same with Lowry.
Lowry is this team’s leader and the guy stepping up into the rotation when he’s absent has been rookie Delon Wright. 24-year-old backup Cory Joseph gets the start, but Wright has to play and neither player can truly replace what an All-Star brings to a game – at least not yet and it’s going to show. You can’t hide the impact of your point guard when the offense is expected to run through him.
Last year Lowry faded after a strong first half and what could be best described as a sore back (or just wear and tear) that never allowed him to get going and the result was disastrous in the postseason. This year Lowry looks stronger in the second half and Casey is making sure things stay that way. A fresh and healthy starting point guard after the second week of April is going to trump winning games in March because Casey knows just how ordinary his team can look without Lowry at 100 percent.