Kyle Lowry is an NBA champion.
The narrative of “playoff Lowry” is finally altered forever. From getting rejected by Paul Pierce in Game 7 of his first playoff appearance with the Raptors to being forced to turn into “skinny Kyle” after getting swept by John Wall to taking L after L from LeBron James, Lowry’s story with this franchise has finally come full circle with the gold ball he so desperately coveted.
The 33-year-old finished the NBA Finals averaging 16.2 points, 7.2 assists, four rebounds and 1.7 steals matched up against two-time MVP Steph Curry and unlike what so many suggested with his game over the years, saved the best for when it mattered most.
When the chance to play for it all was in sight against the Milwaukee Bucks in the East Finals, Lowry delivered with 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists while knocking down 20 of his 43 three-point attempts. Any remnants of talk about his zero-point Game 1 against Orlando in the opening playoff game, or his seven-point performance in a blowout Game 3 loss to Philadelphia, are gone.
His Game 6 to deliver Toronto and Canada a title, though, will go down as one of the greatest performances in franchise history, and possibly, NBA Finals history.
Watch Lowry play, especially early in the game, and you’ll know which Raptors team you’re getting. His team’s heart beats as his does. When there is timidness and deference, it’s almost as if the entire city of Toronto’s insecurities come to the fore and their inferiority complex with it. But when he shows his lion heart, driving into the heart of the opponent’s defence, calling his own shot as if he owns every inch of the court, scrapping for every loose ball like there is no tomorrow, that’s when there’s a palpable feeling that the Raptors mean business.
And in the first quarter against a Golden State Warriors team looking to make one last stand at Oracle Arena, Lowry made it clear he was going for the kill.
Within the first two minutes and change, Lowry collected an offensive rebound off a Marc Gasol miss on the game’s opening possession before finishing at the rim himself, following that up with three-straight 3-pointers to give the Raptors an 11-2 lead. The final shot was a body blow, in a way that is unbecoming of the point guard who ditches flash and panache for grit and grind.
With Steph Curry in front of him at the top of the arc, Lowry pulled off his best Allen Iverson impression and looked to go hard to his right before crossing over to his left and draining the statement splash.
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) June 14, 2019
“I took what the game was going to give me, but I wanted to be aggressive,” Lowry said after the game. “I look back at every game we've played and that we've won, I've shot double figure times. And I was more aggressive. The games, I think besides Game 1, but other games, all the other games we won, I was more aggressive offensively, makes or misses.”
But the beauty of Lowry is that he is always looking to make his teammates better, always understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Twice in this series, Pascal Siakam finished with 12 points, was inefficient, and the Raptors came away with losses. Plenty was being made of his inability to hit shots from the outside, an aspect of his game that spoke just as loudly as his spin moves when making his case for Most Improved Player.
So, when the scorching Lowry was open for three and had every right to keep the heat check going, he made one more swing to the corner. Siakam, drawing on the confidence his leader had in him, showed no hesitation and knocked down his first triple in 13 attempts.
Siakam took another triple shortly after from above the break and knocked that one down, too. With one assist, Lowry showed that empowerment was enough to take the lid off the basket and the Raptors’ Cameroonian prodigy never looked back.
Later, when the team as a whole couldn’t break Golden State’s zone defence, head coach Nick Nurse re-inserted Lowry into the game to get them back on track. Just like that, Lowry hit another three and helped the team rediscover its rhythm and the Warriors had to snap out of their own janky-ness.
That Lowry only scored five points in the second half is more reflective of the effort Golden State made to take him out of the game than it was him fading away. He had four assists in the second half and finished the game with 17 potential assists that helped keep the Raptors in their flow, even calmly playing decoy as Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka went to work.
In each half, fittingly, the world saw both versions, past and present, of the Lowry the Raptors have needed him to be. The one from the past five playoff runs that had to put the team on his back by necessity but for stretches too long, and then the 2019 version that’s best suited for him at this stage of his career, the one who can set the table, quietly get everyone fed and then go thankless at the end of a tireless effort.
“People got their own opinions, they can say what they want to say, they always have.” Lowry said after the title clincher. “I hear them, I listen, but they don't affect my life. Everyone has their own opinions. And I go out there and I do my job to the best of my abilities. And the people that know, my teammates, the organization, they know what I bring to the table, and they appreciate what I do and what I've done. And I score zero points, people blah, blah, blah, I do this, I don't score.
“I understand what people say, I hear them. But if we win a game and we win as a group, then that's all that matters. Winning is all that matters to me. And I'm at the highest level winning right now.”
More Raptors coverage from Yahoo Sports