It took Kyle Lowry three teams and 14 years to grind his way to the NBA Finals, so the last thing you’d expect is for him to disappear once he finally got there.
But through two games against the Golden State Warriors, Lowry is the invisible man of the series, his impact merely a rumor as the Toronto Raptors blew their chance Sunday to take a 2-0 lead back to the Bay Area this week.
It’s not that Lowry, a five-time Eastern Conference All-Star, has made a bunch of destructive plays on the biggest stage of his career. He didn’t shoot Toronto out of Game 2, which the Warriors stormed back to win 109-104. He’s not committing a bunch of turnovers or playing like a traffic cone on defense.
Instead, Lowry is just not doing much of anything in a series that is tied at 1-1. And for the Raptors, that’s not going to be good enough from their point guard who makes $31 million and has been the cornerstone of Toronto’s franchise for the last seven years.
It’s never just one player, of course, when things go wrong in a playoff series. But this opportunity to end the Warriors’ dynasty is going to turn one way or the other based on whether Toronto’s best players are indeed their best players over these two weeks. If this is all Lowry can bring to the table — he got outplayed Sunday by Quinn Cook, for goodness' sake — you might as well go ahead and schedule the parade.
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Though Game 2 was a huge blown opportunity for the Raptors, not all is lost. This series is already weird and is going to get weirder with the health of Kevin Durant and now Klay Thompson in question. If the Raptors can just get one win out of three potential games in Oakland, this sets up to be a seven-game series with the decider in Toronto.
But if Lowry doesn’t even bother to show up, it’s not going to get that far.
It was easy to overlook Lowry scoring just seven points in Game 1 on 2-of-9 shooting because the Raptors had plenty of other people step up. It was less excusable in Game 2, as Lowry scored 13 with two assists and a team-worst minus-17. He also spent the whole game in foul trouble and committed a frivolous sixth foul in the backcourt to disqualify himself with 3:52 left.
Lowry is such a smart player that his value isn’t always about how many points he can score. But without something to show for it on the scoreboard, the craft and guile he brings to the point guard position is all but worthless against Stephen Curry, who may or may not shoot great but is always going to find a way to make his presence felt.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry reacts after fouling out against the Warriors in Game 2. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)
That’s quite a contrast so far for the Raptors, whose best moments at the point guard position have been authored thus far by Fred VanVleet. Though VanVleet didn’t play quite as well in Game 2, with 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting, as he did in Game 1, at least he wasn’t a wallflower.
At this point in his career, with this opportunity finally in front of him, Lowry has to elbow his way into the mix. After the game, he pointed to a third quarter that the Warriors started with an 18-0 run and bad transition defense that prevented the Raptors from setting up in the halfcourt as the key turning points in the game.
But for two games in a row, Toronto’s high-priced point guard has been far too satisfied to blend in offensively and commit a lot of fouls. In 64 minutes on the court, he’s shot just five free throws. None of that is good enough to make this a long series, much less take down the Warriors.
Toronto has been carried to this point largely by Kawhi Leonard, but it’s going to need some big games out of Lowry to have a chance against this Golden State menace. At the very least, he needs to assert that he’s willing to take on a challenge. But if Lowry is satisfied with being a facilitator who isn’t really facilitating, Toronto will need to figure out a Plan B for the next two games in Oakland.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.
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