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Raptors vs. Celtics: Kyle Lowry proves he is the best playoff scorer Toronto needs with Kawhi Leonard gone

When Kawhi Leonard chose to join the Los Angeles Clippers last summer, it felt like the Toronto Raptors’ championship window was slammed as quickly as it had opened. When the Raptors, behind coach Nick Nurse and significant improvement from Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, finished the segmented regular season with the second-best championship win rate – ahead of Leonard’s Clippers and LeBron James – they did little to deter rumblings concerned about their chances of repeating themselves.

Sure, they’re a great regular-season team, they thought, but who̵

7;s going to replace Kawhi as the clutch bucket every league team needs? Would it be Siakam? Maybe VanVleet?

After his spectacular performance in the Raptors’ 125-122 Game 6 double overtime win over the Boston Celtics Wednesday night, Kyle Lowry emphatically announced that he’s the closest Toronto was looking for, and he was right under our noses the whole time. . While scoring 33 points, eight rebounds, six assists and only one turnover in 53 (!) Minutes, Lowry battled with the Raptors in a game 7 to keep the quest alive for at least one more game.

Lowry had 15 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and froze the match with a twisted jumper who twisted to give the Raptors a four-point lead with just under 12 seconds left to play.

His performance was eerily reminiscent of another Game 6 – in last year’s Finals, when Lowry scored 21 points in the first half in the series win against the Golden State Warriors – and you wonder why Lowry wasn’t immediately hooked on filling. Leonard’s clutches.

Even before match 6, the experts could be heard shouting: “Siakam must come forward”. “Siakam must be the best player on the Raptors”. “They are not winning a title with Siakam playing like this.” It seems that Lowry’s (largely undeserved) reputation for dwindling right now during the Raptors’ three consecutive post-season beats at the hands of LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers has us ignored.

Lowry’s playoff story is often coupled with that of his former teammate and current best friend DeMar DeRozan, but Lowry’s stats in those post-season runs were solid: 17.9 points, 6.6 assists, 4, 3 rebounds, 35% 3-point shots. And just last week, with the Raptors facing a potential 3-0 deficit against the Celtics, Lowry came in with 31 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and threw perhaps the most clutch pass in Raptor history to find OG. Anunoby across the field for the 3 winning points.

What Lowry has done, and what every clutch director has to do, is show a willingness to adapt. In Race 3 he decided to go to the limit early and often, essentially removing Toronto’s horrid outside shot from the equation. Just look at the first possession of the game.

In Race 6, however, Lowry took a different approach. The Celtics were loading paint on his records, so Lowry did it from the outside, knocking down 6 out of 10 by 3 points and creating a wide range of mid-range jumpers.

In Game 3, Lowry took 12 edge hits en route to his 31 points. In game 6 on Wednesday, he only threw three shots to the edge to get to 33. Side by side, the shot charts tell the story.

This is the sign of a veteran player who will take what the defense gives him rather than forcing the issue. Coach Nick Nurse and the Raptors worked constantly to get Kemba Walker to Lowry in Game 6, and made them pay the price. The debate over whether Lowry is a Hall of Famer has raged throughout this series, but it’s hard to argue against him after what he’s been up to over the past couple of weeks.

“I like having the privilege of standing there on the sidelines to watch it, because it’s something to see and watch. I never take it for granted,” Nurse Sunday said of Lowry’s play. “It’s a great skill to be able to play that hard. It’s a skill that is often not talked about. … I’ve said it before and it’s the biggest compliment I can pay him: I’ve never seen anyone play stronger.”

But the Raptors have learned that playing hard isn’t enough. Eventually you need a closer to finish things off and make the clutch ring. The last season was Kawhi Leonard. This year it’s Kyle Lowry. And he’ll have to be just as brilliant during Game 7 on Friday if Toronto is to advance.

“We had to work hard for this win,” Lowry said after Game 6. “For us, personally, that’s what we do: play hard. We go out and play every possession as if it were our last and find ways to pull off wins. . “

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