Inside the final night of the Raptors’ championship reign

Chris Haynes
·6 min read

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kyle Lowry kept preaching to the Toronto Raptors throughout Game 7 against the Boston Celtics on Friday night that this was their game. No matter the deficit, the mishaps or the mental fatigue of a grueling seven-game series, Lowry stayed consistent.

“We got this,” the 14-year veteran shouted to his teammates midway through the fourth quarter.

It’s that confidence and leadership that powered their resurgence after nearly falling behind 3-0 in the series. It took an exceptional inbound pass by Lowry and an even more stunning 3-pointer by OG Anunoby to get the team’s first win of the series in Game 3.

Following that game, Lowry told his teammates, “That’s all we needed,” league sources told Yahoo Sports. He was right, but most importantly his team believed that he was right. Forcing the series to go the distance wasn’t on anybody’s radar outside of the Raptors’ locker room.

The defending champs remained confident, but fell just short of advancing to the conference finals, losing Game 7 92-87 to the Celtics, who move on to face the Miami Heat. Game 1 opened as a pick ’em at BetMGM.

“It’s sad. We had more to give,” Lowry said. “But unfortunately we’re not giving no more.”

Kyle Lowry, left, shares a word with the Celtics' Jayson Tatum after Game 7 Friday night. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Kyle Lowry, left, shares a word with the Celtics' Jayson Tatum after Game 7 Friday night. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

These aren’t the Raptors of just a few years ago.

There was a time not too long ago when this Raptors franchise was a perennial postseason participant, but consistently flamed out. Lowry was consistently underperforming when it mattered most.

Questioning if he had what it took to instill a championship mindset in the locker room was a constant topic.

His effort off the court was even questioned during the 2016 Eastern Conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lowry and former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue are great friends, with Lowry calling the coach a mentor. Leading up to their matchup, Lue had been communicating with Lowry throughout the playoffs and providing tips and encouragement. The point guard struggled in Game 1 with an eight-point performance on 4-of-14 shooting and the Raptors loss.

Prior to Game 2, Lowry asked Lue if the two could meet up to watch the Western Conference finals game. It never happened.

“He knew he couldn’t,” Lue said at the time. “It wouldn’t look right.”

But when it comes to players who have been excelling in the 2020 playoffs, Lowry is one of the first players mentioned. His name has gone viral on social media due to his countless clutch plays. Players around the league began tweeting about the 6-foot guard, with a common theme of giving the 34-year-old his due — and some more followers.

No one truly knows how rough it was for Lowry during those dark postseason days, but it’s profoundly thrilling to see how a player has elevated his game and salvaged his reputation in such a short span.

Now his attention turns to helping someone else.

Pascal Siakam had emerged this season as arguably the Raptors’ best player. He averaged a career-high 22.9 points on 45.3 percent shooting and was a first-time All-Star selection.

However in this series, his numbers plummeted to 14.9 points and 39.4 percent shooting from the field. He could never get it going. His highest-scoring outing was 23 points in Game 4, but it took him 23 shots. Just how Lue was there for Lowry, the six-time All-Star was going to make sure he was there for Siakam.

“For myself, when we got swept against the Wizards [in 2015], I read every single article. I read every single thing that was said about me. Good, bad, evil, terrible, awesome, and I used it as motivation. And that’s what he’s going to do,” Lowry said about Siakam.

“And that’s the advice that I would give him is that you look at everything. You go back and look at all these moments and you see who’s saying what, because you’re going to use it as fuel,” Lowry continued. “Fuel yourself, and that’s what he’s going to do. And for a guy like me who has gone through the type of things that he’s going through at this moment, he’ll be able to call me whenever, and I won’t tell him nothing wrong and I don’t think he did anything wrong. I think this is a learning experience, and I think it’s only going to make him a better basketball player, a better man, a better everything. And I would not be surprised to see him come back even more hungry and destroying people.”

“Let’s f---ing go!” screamed Kemba Walker as he celebrated briefly on the court after the final buzzer Friday night. The inexperienced Celtics could finally let out a collective sigh of relief. The longer this series went, the more comfortable the Raptors were because they’d been there before.

This was uncharted territory for most of the Celtics’ players. Marcus Smart’s late-game chasedown block of Norman Powell might have been the difference-maker.

“Smart is first-team All-Defense. The best defender in the league, in my opinion,” Jayson Tatum said on “Inside the NBA.” “He made the play of the series, getting that block on Powell with 37 seconds left. Smart just makes those plays that don’t really show up in the statbook, but can change the series, change the dynamic of a game. If you’re going to war, if you’re in a Game 7, that’s who you want on your team.”

The young Celtics are in pursuit of consistency deep into the postseason and beating the Raptors is a significant accomplishment. Lowry, one of the shortest players on the court, gave the Celtics all they could handle. The praise and adoration he’s receiving at this stage of his career is warranted.

Lowry's goal of defending Toronto’s title has evaporated, but he proved to the world that he’s a bona fide star and there are more battles to win.

As the night wound down and thoughts turned to tomorrow, Lowry gave his final words: “It’s time to leave this motherf---er.”

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