Here came Kyle Lowry with a full head of steam.
The Toronto Raptors point guard caught an inbound pass on the run with two seconds remaining in the first half. He beat one Brooklyn Net, squirted between two others, launched a 3-pointer and then crashed into a fourth Net.
As the ball banked off the backboard and through the net, Lowry lay on his back and raised both in celebration.
After falling to the bottom,Toronto emerged victorious anyway Wednesday with a 115-113 Game 5 victory. The Raptors blew a 26-point lead, but they rallied late for their first series lead since 2001. Up 3-2 on the Nets, Toronto can end the series Friday.
For a while, Toronto’s win seemed assured.
Lowry’s second-quarter buzzer beater capped a 26-4 run, and the Raptors pushed their lead to 26 in the third quarter. They led by 22 in the fourth quarter.
Remarkably, the Nets needed an awesome 18-point third quarter from Joe Johnson just to stay that close. Johnson kept milking his matchup advantage in the fourth quarter, scoring eight more points .
In the final period, though, Johnson finally got help. A balanced lineup that also included Deron Williams (10 fourth-quarter points), Alan Anderson (10), Mirza Teletovic (9) and Andray Blatche (7) carried the Nets on a 29-7 run to tie the game, 101-101.
Then Lowry answered.
With just more than a minute left, Lowry hit another 3-pointer – his sixth of the game on nine attempts. On Toronto’s next possession, Lowry crossed over Williams and finished in the paint amid contact.
After that, the Nets were intentionally fouling, though they had a chance to win at the end.
Following the game, Lowry praised Johnson, who finished with 30 points, 26 of them in the second half.
“There’s a reason he was an All-Star,” said Lowry, who scored 36 points himself.
The Raptors and Nets have a budding rivalry, one fueled by the belief Brooklyn tanked to match up with Toronto in the first round. If there’s any Raptor with grounds to loathe the Nets – or, more accurately, a Net – it’s Lowry.
Lowry should have been an All-Star this season, and this was a true snub. Unlike the Western Conference, where there were more deserving players than roster spots, Lowry was clearly more worthy of selection than multiple All-Stars.
If Lowry sought revenge on Johnson, his pleasant postgame comments certainly didn’t indicate it. This is a calmer Lowry, one who also had six assists and only one turnover in 38 minutes. To whatever extent his level-headedness flows over to the floor, it hasn’t interrupted his competitive fire, though.
Asked at halftime about his buzzer beater, Lowry answered a question not posed.
“Yeah, we’ve got to keep it up,” Lowry said, breathing heavily.
To better understand Lowry and the Raptors he leads, dial back a couple possessions from that moment.
Lowry drove and finished through contact, getting knocked to the ground in the paint. He burst up as the Nets went the other way and closely guarded Williams, guiding the point guard into a charge drawn by Chuck Hayes. That’s the only reason Toronto even got that final first-half possession.
Wednesday, Lowry made all the big plays and a lot of small ones, and now his Raptors lead a playoff series. It’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.
But the Raptors also must now know these teams are too evenly matched to rest on their laurels. Press on like Lowry, though, and they’ll be headed to the second round for just the second time ever.