TORONTO – If Kyle Lowry had played in Toronto’s final game of the regular season, would his shot still have been M.I.A. against Orlando? Or could he have used the rhythm of a game just five days before the post-season tipped off?
Mulling those questions over on Monday, Raptors coach Nick Nurse pointed the finger at himself for Lowry’s offensive woes. The five-time all-star guard scored zero points in Toronto’s 104-101 loss to Orlando in the series opener on Saturday, suddenly switching the script on this much-anticipated post-season run.
Should he have let Lowry play in Minnesota last Tuesday night?
“Well, considering (how Game 1 played out),” Nurse said. “Hindsight is of course 20/20. Any time you go back and you look at something and now you’ve got the result of something, you say, ‘Yeah, maybe it wasn’t the right idea.'”
Lowry shot 0-for-7 on the night, leading to the inevitable thoughts of “if only.” But outside of Lowry’s poor shooting, he had eight assists and seven rebounds, and the highest plus/minus ratio on the team.
“Obviously, I’ve met with him and talked with him about it,” Nurse said. “The main thing I said going into the thing is, ‘We need you to be our leader and be tough. Run the team, be tough, do what you do instinctively.’
“I gotta take some responsibility for this myself, too. I thought we had Kyle in a really good place all the last half of the season. He was playing well, feeling good, et cetera. Obviously he wasn’t in a good enough place to impact the game on the scoreboard the other night. I’ve got to do everything I can do to help him succeed.”
Nurse said he never doubts his 33-year-old guard. He even drew up a late play for him.
“Kyle’s a great shooter, great release, great mechanics,” Nurse added. “I believe every time he shoots it, it’s going in.”
Lowry, meanwhile, said he was feeling “fantastic” ahead of Game 2 on Tuesday in Toronto.
The press conference table at the Raptors’ practice facility was missing on Monday, and so the point guard took a seat and leaned back against a wall to address reporters, clutching the mic in one hand.
He’s confident his zero points haven’t messed with his head.
“It’s happened before,” Lowry said. “I play the right way. I’m a guy that plays basketball the right way. Me not scoring any points doesn’t mean I didn’t affect the game. So that’s why the mental game doesn’t really matter. For me, I play the game the right way and missed some shots, and we lost so it looks worse.”
Orlando coach Steve Clifford said Lowry was a handful for his team, whether he was scoring or not.
“If you had time to study the game, he played a terrific game. Not good, he was terrific,” Clifford said. “He put a ton of pressure (on us). He’s the one who starts their transition, all those advance passes up the court to (Pascal) Siakam, that’s all him, and he took seven shots and didn’t make them. He’ll make them.
“Listen, he’s one of the great competitors in our league . . . So if he can play that game every playoff game and make three of those, great. His impact on the game was terrific for them. He’s a problem on both ends of the floor.”
Kawhi Leonard’s playing time will be a storyline of Game 2. Coming off a season in San Antonio that saw him play just nine games because of a serious quadriceps injury, the MVP of the 2014 NBA finals had praised Toronto’s staff for the careful load management program that got him to the playoffs feeling healthy and rested.
And then the team’s star player inexplicably played just 33 minutes on Sunday, less than his season average. He played 19 minutes in the first and third quarters combined. The Raptors outscored the Magic 57-43 in those frames. He played just 14 minutes in Toronto’s ugly second and fourth quarters, during which the Raptors were outscored 61-44.
Nurse said the 33 minutes wasn’t by design.
“No reason for it, and yes he could have went a little bit longer,” the coach said. “Yeah, I looked at it too and thought we should have had him out there a little bit more. I think once I go back through (the game), it wasn’t by design to play under 35 minutes or any of that kind of stuff.”
The Magic, who matched Toronto’s 22-9 record down the stretch to make the playoffs, are expecting the Raptors to come out swinging on Tuesday.
“We expect a great response from them,” said Orlando centre Nikola Vucevic. “Obviously, losing Game 1 at home is not what they wanted and not what they expected.
“We expect them to come out really ready and jump on us from the beginning. It’s going to be a fun game for sure. We’re going to see their best, I assume, so we have to prepare for it.”
The series shifts to Orlando for Games 3 and 4, on Friday and Sunday respectively.
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