From there, everything changed. Lowry had 29 of his 33 points in the second half of Game 3, and then went for 25 in Game 5 followed by a postseason career-high 36 in Game 6.
In Game 7, he shot 11-for-20 from the field, 5-for-7 from 3-point range and 8-for-11 from the free throw line.
Still, his impact was always felt. He currently holds a plus-77 postseason plus-minus rating. As a team, the Raptors are plus-eight for the playoffs.
“I just wanted to stay poised and level-headed no matter what happened,” said Lowry, who was nearly traded to the New York Knicks in December 2013. “We knew it was going to be a 48-minute game and they weren’t going to give up easily and they were going to make a run. We just had to stay focused on the task at hand and get back on defense. Their coaches did an unbelievable job in going small, but we had to be big and just play our game.”
After back-to-back first-round exits, the Raptors won a franchise-record 56 games and advanced to Round 2 for the first time in nearly 15 years despite being pushed to Game 7 by the Indiana Pacers.
Now, they’ve bested Dwyane Wade and the Heat as well.
It certainly has been a bumpy ride to get to this point. Just ask embattled coach Dwane Casey, GM Masai Ujiri, Lowry or DeRozan.
The scrutiny has come with the ups and downs, but somehow the Raptors have been able to go where they’ve never gone before.
Even better: For once, they made it easy on themselves, outscoring the Heat 30-11 in the fourth quarter and leading by as many as 28. The key stat was the rebounding column, which Toronto dominated by a margin of 20.
“It’s very important for our program,” Casey said. “I think we’ve done everything we’ve set out to do, but we’re not done yet. I know what it’s like to win a championship. I’m not saying we can do that, but I think this group is hungry and never say never. I know one thing: Our guys will compete.”
Lowry and DeRozan (28 points) closed the series by scoring 59 points combined in Game 5, 59 in Game 6 and a career postseason-high 63 in Game 7.
Bismack Biyombo had 17 points and 16 rebounds in Game 7, Patrick Patterson finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and DeMarre Carroll was outscored by Wade only 16-14, meaning he harassed the future Hall of Famer defensively all game long.
“We never doubted Kyle and DeMar,” Casey said. “They’re our guys. They’re here, they’re our All-Stars and I thought they played like it tonight. They both stepped up and carried us.”
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether Jonas Valanciunas (right ankle sprain) will be ready for the start of Round 3, as he has not resumed basketball activities since two days before Game 1 against Cleveland. At this point, it doesn’t look promising.
The Cavaliers hit 77 3-pointers during their four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, and will be a tough opponent for the Raptors, who usually put more emphasis on defending the paint than the perimeter.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Lowry, who averaged 31 points on 66 percent shooting and posted a 46.2 PER against Cleveland in the regular season, said of what the Cavaliers have been able to accomplish.
“We’ve all watched it and we’ve witnessed all the things they’ve done, like hitting 25 3s in a game and 70-something 3s in the series, but that’s why we have books and film and we’ll have time to scout it and make adjustments.”
Nevertheless, Toronto’s season already has been a resounding success, and the Raptors are playing with house money now.
Just don’t tell them they’re the “underdogs.”
“We look at ourselves as a team that’s going to continue to play hard and grow and go from there and let the chips fall where they may,” Lowry said.
“It’s been a crazy ride. DeMar’s been here for the long run, and I’m more happy for him and these guys that have been with this franchise for 21 years to finally get to this point. Our owners, [senior basketball advisor] Wayne Embry — for me I’m happy for the other people that we’ve done it for.”
PITTSBURGH — When puck drops for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday at Consol Energy Center, chances are good that the goaltenders at either end of the ice will be 21 years old.
Fans have already seen what Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray can do in the postseason, with his 7-3 record in 10 playoff games, while veteran Marc-Andre Fleury serves as the backup. And it appears the Lightning will have to rely on Andrei Vasilevskiy for Game 2 after starter Ben Bishop suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1 and is listed as day to day.
Most would think that it would be a challenge for a pair of 21-year-olds to perform at their best with a berth to the Stanley Cup finals at stake. Murray has proved to be poised and confident, and Vasilevskiy seems to have the same mindset. Having little NHL postseason experience could also help, in a way.
Former NHL goalie Andrew Raycroft was 23 when he played for the Boston Bruins during the 2003-04 season. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year and led the Bruins into the first round against the Montreal Canadiens. It was his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I want to be able to be looked back on and know that ‘He was one of the greats in the game.’ If I have the opportunity to do that, I’m going to try my best,” Day said after his 4-shot victory. “And I have the opportunity to do that right now, try and work as hard as I can to really leave my footprint in this game. I’m very motivated to win as much as I can right now.”
He stomped his way all over everyone at The Players Championship, even though he had a few nervous moments. Day made bogey on No. 6, had to make a 15-foot par putt on the next hole and really looked out-of-sorts from just 40 feet right of the green on the par-5 ninth. He muffed three straight chips and had to make a 6-foot putt just to escape with bogey, which dropped his lead to two shots.
“If I walk away with a double-bogey there, I let everyone [back] in the field,” he said. “I was right there next to the green in two and felt like an amateur chopping my way to the pin. That putt was probably the most crucial putt of this tournament for me.”