When Kyle Lowry was sitting on the bench favouring his right wrist in mid February, there were obvious concerns for The Toronto Raptors. He would go on to shrug it off and finish the game, eventually play in the All-Star game that weekend. That took the fear out of the Raptors nation, for the time being at least.
That was until tests later revealed Lowry would require surgery to repair his injured wrist. His main shooting, ball dominant wrist and would miss the next 21 games. The Raptors missed Lowry down the final stretch of the regular season, with the team in a battle for the Atlantic Division title with the Boston Celtics and first place overall with the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers. Perfect timing.
Normally, an injury to a point guard and one of the faces of a franchise going down with an injury would be a significant blow. However, after acquiring power forward Serge Ibaka and shooting specialist P.J. Tucker, the Raps had enough around them to not only survive, but thrive without their star point guard.
Winning 3 straight games after the All-Star break and four of their next five contests, Toronto proved they weren’t just a 1 or 2-man operation. Yes, DeMar DeRozan had a career season while carrying the team on multiple nights, and several secondary players elevating their play to cover for their lost star. But without Lowry, the expectation was to keep afloat in time for the playoffs.
This was not the case.
The Raptors went 18-7 in Lowry’s absence, on rout to finishing 3rd in the conference. This set up a first-round playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Of course, during that stretch, Lowry was missed, and his teammates weren’t shy about admitting it. “He’s the team,” DeRozan said. “He runs us, and he showed it tonight. There’s no words I can put into context that will explain what it means to get him back.”
This came after Lowry’s first game back. The star point guard played 42 minutes and had 27 points and 10 assists. The Raptors overcome a 20-point first-half deficit in a 105-102 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
What’s even more important for the Raptors. More important than finishing 3rd. More important than staying competitive within their conference. What’s more important than all of that, the Raps learned how to play without one of their franchise players. And win in the process.
How This Year Can be Better than Last
Toronto made it all the way to conference finals a year ago, eventually losing to Cleveland in 6. With all of that success a year ago, The Raptors may be in an even better position this year to make a run at the NBA championship. Think about it. They have the forefront of the offence in tact with Lowry, DeRozan and center Jonas Valanciunas. They made crucial additions of Tucker and Ibaka, and a year of deep playoff experience. Would it be that shocking to see the Raps back in the Conference Finals? Or possibly deeper?
The feeling remains the same as it did at the beginning of the season though: A rematch between The Golden State Warriors and The Cavaliers in the NBA Championship seems all but set.
But that’s why they play the games.
Stranger things have happened before. All it takes is for one team to go on a hot stretch. One favourable matchup, and the whole narrative changes. Taking down The King and Chef Curry is no easy task. However, with a more complete team, a year of deep playoff experience under their belts, and learning to play without a crucial superstar in their lineup, don’t be surprised if we see The Raptors in unfamiliar territory come June.
Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry (L) runs by Orlando Magic Victor Oladipo during the NBA Global Game London 2016 basketball match between Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors at the O2 Arena in London on January 14, 2016. AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK / AFP / GLYN KIRK (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)