TORONTO – Kyle Lowry has come a long way in six years without moving.
Lowry thought Toronto had traded him in 2013 to the New York Knicks as part of a rebuilding effort. But the Knicks backed out at the last minute, and the Raptors put their rebuild on hold.
Now, Lowry – a journeyman turned All-Star – is on the verge of his first NBA championship. After three teams in his first seven years. After ups and downs with the Raptors. After losing to LeBron James and Cleveland in three consecutive playoffs. After the team fired head coach Dwane Casey. After Toronto traded his best friend DeMar DeRozan.
The Raptors defeated Golden State 105-92 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday and took a 3-1 series lead. If the Raptors win a fourth game in this series – perhaps Game 5 Monday in Toronto (9 p.m. ET, ABC) – the title will be meaningful to all Raptors, but maybe just a bit more to Lowry.
“We didn't do nothing yet,” Lowry said. “We haven't done anything. We won three games. It's the first to four. We understand that. They're the defending champs, and they're not going to go out easy. They're going to come and fight and prepare to play the next game, and that's how we're preparing ourselves.”
There is a growing sense, though, the Raptors will stop Golden State’s attempt at a three-peat. The Warriors are beat up, injured, gassed and struggling to keep up with Toronto.
The Raptors have been relentless throughout the playoffs, but especially in this series, and they embody Lowry’s dogged ethos. His statistics don’t stand out: 13.3 points, 6.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 35.4% from the field and 36% on three-pointers.
“One of the best things about this team is that you don't have to put a burden of 20 to 25 points on him, because he's going to defend, he's going to lead the team, he's going to make those tough plays,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “He just instinctually does that game after game after game.”
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But Lowry is a case where his impact is greater than statistics. He has drawn three charges, deflected 10 passes and if a loose ball is on the floor or going out of bounds, Lowry will dive to save it.
“There's something about that guy that I just believe in. It's incredible,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “We have been through so much, and he's a winner. There's no other way to put it – he's a winner. He's been hit upside the head from every different angle, whether it's personal, everything, and he survives it. Like every day he comes, he comes to win. Doesn't matter what mood he's in, like he comes to win.”
In Game 4, he had just 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting (no threes) but he had seven assists and three steals.
“I’ve always just wanted to win,” Lowry said. “My approach was always to play hard and do everything as hard as I possibly can to (do) whatever it takes to win games, and that was the most important thing that I've always done.”
He had a big statistical effort in Game 3 with 23 points, nine assists and four rebounds and made 8-for-16 from the field, including 5-for-9 on three-pointers.
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SportsPulse: Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens was banned from NBA games for one year and fined $500,000. However, Kyle Lowry thinks the punishment should have been stronger.
It was also the game where he dove into the stands to save the basketball and ended up in the middle of the controversy involving Warriors part-owner Mark Stevens, who gave Lowry a push and told him to “Go (expletive) yourself” multiple times.
Lowry was irate in real time, then calmed down with the help of his teammates en route to a win. He handled the situation as well as possible in real time, and the following day, he expressed the proper amount of disgust at Stevens’ behavior.
He was direct and calm when he said Stevens should no longer be part of the NBA. That story isn’t going away, but it faded with another Raptors victory and the possibility that Golden State won’t win another championship this season.
When the Raptors traded DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, Lowry was hurt. Ujiri and Lowry had a long conversation to clear the air.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (Photo: Dan Hamilton, USA TODAY Sports)
“This year there was a really good moment where we sat down and we really talked about what we wanted to accomplish, and it's a tough conversation but these are conversations that you have to have,” Ujiri said. “I did understand how Kyle felt when obviously we made the trade and it was tough. DeMar is his best friend. I do understand that completely. That's the toughest part of the business that we all talk about.”
As much as it hurt to see his friend traded, deep down Lowry understood his best chance to win a title was alongside Leonard.
At one point early in his Raptors tenure, Lowry thought he would be on the move again.
“When I first got traded here I didn't really know what to expect,” Lowry said. “I thought I would be here a couple years and be out of here. But the organization is unbelievable, the ownership is unbelievable, management has been great. We have had great people come through here, players, coaches, and just kind of grown for me.”
Seven seasons later, Lowry, the Raptors and Toronto are close to something that seemed so far away for so long.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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