Kyle Lowry stuns Knicks in Game 1: ‘As a basketball player, you want to play at The Mecca’

·4 min read

Kevin Love had four important words for his teammate Kyle Lowry, whose play down the stretch of the fourth quarter with an injured Jimmy Butler propelled the Miami Heat to a stunning Game 1 victory over the Knicks on Sunday.

“You’re a smart motherf-----,” Love said to Lowry. “That last four minutes, he knew what he needed to do.”

With Butler planted in the corner relegated to a floor-spacing role from the 5:05 mark through the final buzzer, the Heat turned to Lowry, the former NBA champion alongside Kawhi Leonard leading the 2019 Toronto Raptors to a Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors.

The star guard delivered, a reminder just how loaded the Heat can be if the 37-year-old six-time All-Star turns back the clock like he did in Game 1.

“He’s a winner. An absolute winner,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “And when you need him most, that’s when he’s gonna show up.”

Lowry stuffed the stat sheet in Sunday’s matinee game: He finished with 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and four blocks — indicative of all he brings to the basketball court despite standing just six feet tall.

The reason? It’s Madison Square Garden, the world’s biggest stage, and Lowry wants the spotlight.

“This place was amazing. It was electric, and as a basketball player, you want to play at the Mecca,” he said postgame. “You want to play in this type of atmosphere. For me, it’s just being able to stay the course. I’ve been in this league 17 years, and every moment: I’ve been in big moments, I’ve been in lower moments, I’ve been in the bubble, I’ve been in a situation where you’ve got no fans, and just being able to stay level-headed the whole time is amazing.”

With just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Lowry got a block on R.J. Barrett’s drive to the rim, then saved the ball before it went out of bounds, tipping the rock to a teammate to start a transition opportunity.

Minutes later, he pump faked three times before floating a shot over Mitchell Robinson’s outstretched arm. When the shot missed and Robinson grabbed the rebound, Lowry swiped the ball out of the Knicks center’s hands and regained possession for the Heat. The Heat were only up three at that point, but the play resulted in a triple for Gabe Vincent.

An extended lead courtesy of the veteran guard’s wits.

“Kyle, in the fourth quarter, made three or four just veteran, physical, heady plays,” Spoelstra said postgame. “Savvy plays defensively that you can’t really teach. You just have to match competitive wills with competitive wills, and Kyle is one of those guys.”

Lowry also hit a contested jumper over Immanuel Quickley to give the Heat a 94-84 lead with less than three minutes left in the final period. And on the very next play, he got another stop on the driving Barrett, this time a swipe-down steal he also kept inbounds that led to another Heat opportunity in transition.

“Championship DNA. I mean, that’s a Hall of Famer sitting over there,” Love told a small group of reporters postgame. “It wasn’t only him getting to the free throw line knocking down shots. It’s just how smart he is.

“It was a beautiful thing to watch: a guy that I’ve had a lot of admiration for in my career and now I get to play with him and watch him go and do his thing because he’s capable every single night.”

Spoelstra said Sunday’s matchup against the Knicks wasn’t the best game he’s seen from the veteran point guard who joined the Heat as a free agent last season. Coincidentally, the Knicks had an opportunity to trade for Lowry in 2013, but talks subsided when owner James Dolan stepped in, fearing the Knicks would lose that trade like they did the Andrea Bargnani deal with the Raptors. Meanwhile, Knicks star Jalen Brunson struggled under the hawking pressure of Butler’s mid-game defense.

The Knicks’ star shot just 11-of-23 from the field for his 25 points and turned the ball over five times to his seven assists.

Spoelstra did say, however, that this has been the healthiest stretch of games for Lowry this season. Lowry missed five weeks of action around the All-Star break with a left knee injury. His 18 points against the Knicks were the most he’s scored in a game this season since the day after Christmas, and with Butler’s status in question for Game 2, the Heat plan to lean heavily on a player whose shoulders proved strong enough to carry the load on Sunday.

“These kinds of environments, at this point in his career, this place was electric,” Spoelstra said. “This is all that Kyle wants at this point of his career are these kinds of opportunities in the playoffs to have a chance to hopefully win some games in the playoffs.”