Now that the season has come to an end for the Toronto Raptors, we're taking the next week to grade how each key player on this season's team performed in the playoffs, from Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam to Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka.
Up first: Mr. Raptor himself, Kyle Lowry.
"They might play this game at Kyle Lowry's Hall of Fame induction."
That's what I wrote after Lowry hit a fadeaway over Kemba Walker that sealed the deal for the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of their second-round series with the Boston Celtics.
It was less about Lowry's shot and more about what he did leading up to that shot.
In a must-win game for the Raptors that was decided in double overtime, it was Lowry who led the charge from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Not only did he score a game-high 33 points - marking his third 30-point game while facing elimination, by the way, which is the most in franchise history - he totaled eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and one block, all while playing 53 minutes.
The Raptors got a big boost out of Norman Powell in the overtime periods, but it was Lowry who dragged them to the finish line.
The Legend of Kyle Lowry- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 10, 2020
53 Mins | 33 Pts | 8 Reb | 6 Ast | 6 3pm#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/Qd5sFw1hdv
That was one of the two 30-point games Lowry had in these playoffs. The other? When the Raptors found themselves down 2-0 in the same series.
In another must-win game for the Raptors, it was Lowry who willed them to victory in Game 3, scoring a team-high 31 points on 13-for-23 shooting from the field.
He also dished out a team-high eight assists, the last of which was an all-timer.
ANUNOBY FOR THE WIN WITH .5 SECONDS LEFT 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/M6IdnSv5yd- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 4, 2020
Scoring-wise, Lowry was relatively quiet outside of those two games, but that didn't prevent the Raptors from sweeping the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and pushing the Celtics to the brink of elimination in the second round - with Lowry nursing a sprained ankle, no less.
Besides, Lowry has never been someone whose value shows up in the scoring column. It's the "little things" he does that make the difference.
"He's an All-Star, but he might be the most underrated player in the league," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Lowry in the middle of the series. "I just feel like he's a terrific defender, he's a terrific leader, a terrific effort player.
"Offensively, he puts you in a bind by getting fouled, making tough shots, and obviously, he does every little thing that helps teams win. Somehow he's been underappreciated. The more people watch him in these settings, the more people appreciate him.
"He's an amazing player, and certainly a big engine to them."
There still isn't a single stat that captures everything Lowry does on a basketball court, but him leading the playoffs in loose balls recovered (21) and charges drawn (8) by the time the Raptors were eliminated is a reflection of the impact he makes without scoring. To boot, Lowry ranked third in the league in steals (19), fifth in assists (64) and 18th in rebounds (72) alongside players like Khris Middleton, James Harden and Daniel Theis.
When he wasn't scoring, Lowry was filling up the box score every which way.
The result: Toronto was 6.7 points per 100 possessions better with Lowry on the court against the Nets in the first round. Against the Celtics in the second round, that number ballooned to 16.7 points per 100 possessions, putting him behind Matt Thomas and Terence Davis (neither of whom played much) for the best mark on the team.
Those are obviously based on small sample sizes - four games in the case of the Nets, seven in the case of the Celtics - but it carried on a seven-year trend of the Raptors being a completely different team in the playoffs with Lowry on the court.
It makes this an easy decision.
Playoff Grade: A
Regular Season Grade: A
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