Lowry lifts Raptors to victory
TORONTO—Toronto’s Kyle Lowry had spent big chunks of yesterday’s game on the bench—part of the coaching and medical staffs’ plan to manage the minutes of their battered and bruised team leader.
Unleashed in the fourth quarter, Lowry scored seven of his 25 points in the game’s final minute to lift the Raptors to a 96-86 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
“We’ve got a group of guys who are resilient, we want to win games, we’ve got a goal in mind,” Lowry noted.
“It’s fun to win games and when you’ve found the recipe to win in the fourth, you have to stick with it,” he added.
Lowry also had four assists and four steals in just 27 minutes.
With the Raptors poised to make their first playoff appearance in six years, the team is being careful with his playing time.
“He’s had a lot of minutes,” said coach Dwane Casey.
“It’s hard, believe me, as a coach and for him as a competitor,” Casey added. “It looks like we’re going at each other but we both understand the situation.
“If it’s close, I may close my eyes and forget time, but we have to watch his minutes.”
DeMar DeRozan added 21 points yesterday while Jonas Valanciunas finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Greivis Vasquez chipped in with 12 points for the Raptors (39-30).
Lowry, who has struggled with a groin injury in the past, wouldn’t say if anything specific is sore.
“My full body has aches and pains right now,” he noted. “[But] I don’t think any player in the NBA right now feels 100 percent.
“It’s that time of year where everybody has knicks and knacks and bruises.”
DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap scored 17 points apiece to top the Hawks (31-37) while Jeff Teague added 16.
Coming off a an energetic 119-118 loss in double overtime two nights earlier to Oklahoma City, the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors looked like a different team yesterday through three quarters of sloppy passes, horrible shooting, and lackadaisical defence.
Casey passed Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment boss Tim Leiweke in the hallway after the game, and told him it was like “pulling teeth, it was like going to the dentist’s office that first half.”
“We’ve got to be pros like I told our players, whether it’s five o’clock in the morning, midnight, two o’clock, we’ve got to get ourselves going,” Casey stressed.
“With season ticket-holders paying big money to watch us play, we came out and gave them a bad performance in the first half.”
Casey gave his players an earful at halftime.
“Aw, man, he came in here yelling,” DeRozan said. “Once Casey yells, you’ve got to do your job or you’ll hear him yelling after the game.
“We understood . . . we were still in the game and we were playing terrible that first half.”
The Hawks, who are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, led by as many as 14 points in the first half and were up by 71-60 heading into the fourth quarter.
Finally showing some life, the Raptors chipped away at the difference. And when Johnson tipped in his own miss with 5:18 left to play, it tied the game 79-79.
Lowry scored on a hook shot with 44 seconds left to give the Raptors a five-point lead and some precious breathing room, then he stole the ball off an inbounds pass and scored again to help put the game away.
There was a scary moment late in the game when workhorse Amir Johnson went down in a heap clutching his left knee after Shelvin Mack had fallen awkwardly on it.
Johnson, who was limping in the locker-room after the game, said the initial pain was bad, but he was able to walk it off.