Ethan J. Skolnick

Raptors’ Lowry looks to get past ‘mind-boggling’ Game 1 performance

Goran Dragic explains how Luol Deng's 'magic sandwiches' help his game

The Heat's point guard said Deng's hot start to the playoffs got him to try making his sandwiches Uncle Lu's way. He explains the secret. May 4, 2016.
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The Heat's point guard said Deng's hot start to the playoffs got him to try making his sandwiches Uncle Lu's way. He explains the secret. May 4, 2016.

Call it candor. Or catharsis. Actually, if you root for Canada’s national NBA team, you’d call it confusing and concerning. But certainly, all fans will find it unconventional, the way that Kyle Lowry emoted in the 16 hours following his briefly euphoric, but mostly miserable Game 1 of the second round against the Miami Heat.

“It’s crazy,” Lowry said after Wednesday’s practice, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs hat and a weary smile. “Because, like I said, it’s mind-boggling to me. How are you not making these shots?”

Well, the point guard did make one shot of significance on Tuesday night, a miracle from 39 feet to send the game to overtime. He made a mess of virtually everything else during the Raptors’ 102-96 loss to the Heat. He missed all six of his other three-point attempts, and four of his six two-point attempts, while rarely getting to the rim and often passing on decent looks to stick his teammates in a compromised position.

If this abomination had been an outlier, like a Toronto street without a Starbucks or Tim Horton’s, it could have been dutifully dismissed. But it’s become the recent norm for the Raptors’ two-time All-Star. That’s why, before leaving Air Canada Centre late Tuesday, Lowry worked on the court until the wee hours, getting up shots and reflecting about “the game that I grew up as a kid, and the game I love,” even if that love’s been unrequited of late.

While we’ve seen that sort of public correctional shooting display — recall Kobe Bryant at American Airlines Arena — we rarely hear athletes speak as vulnerably as Lowry did after the loss, about how poorly he was playing, how much he was hurting his team.

As Lowry addressed the media again Wednesday, it was clear that the Raptors will have a sixth defender facing them this series, other than whatever five players Erik Spoelstra puts on the floor, one that didn’t cost the Heat a dime against the salary cap.

Doubt.

It is now squarely on the Heat’s side, because it is clearly in Lowry’s head.

If the Heat can exploit it again, the Raptors will not square the series Thursday night.

On Tuesday, Miami did so largely by leaving him alone and letting him shake and stew. According to SportVU data, the Heat contested just two of his 13 shots, while contesting 16 of DeMar Rozan’s 22.

“Our bigs did a good job of screening,” Lowry said. “So I think I was just rushing a lot of shots. They are backing off a little bit. I would too, if I were them. As a coaching staff, until I start making shots, I would back off and go under. That’s the nature of the game.”

The nature of confidence is when it goes, it doesn’t come back quickly. He’s shot a piddly 30.6 percent in Toronto’s first eight playoff games, after shooting just 31.6 percent as Toronto got swept in the first round last postseason. He’s shot under 50 percent in 17 of his last 18 games dating to March 19.

He made light of an ESPN stat that showed him as “the worst shooting playoff player ever. So I’ll take that award. I mean, it’s an award. It’s something. You’ve got to take some type of good with it. … And I know I can shoot better than 31 percent.” He jokingly asked how many he needed to make to reach 35 percent.

Even so, you can be sure he’s taking this seriously. It was an impressive display, the 30-year-old showing so much vulnerability and accountability.

Asked why he was being so transparent about his troubles, he replied: “What else? I mean, what am I going to do? Why be anything I’m not? For me, to be honest. I’m always truthful with you all, for the most part, except for when I’m injured. For the most part, what else am I going to do. I know the pressure I put on myself. And I know we won’t advance unless I play better. So I live by this. This is what I do. So I have to play better for us to be a good team and to win games.”

When the Toronto media, which believe he’s hiding an elbow issue, pressed about his health, he shot that down. “No, no, no,” he said. “Not at this point. I mean, there’s nothing to be made of it. My fingers aren’t crossed. My toes may be. Nah, nah. Nothing’s crossed. No, nothing to be made from that. It’s all me, it’s all me.”

So he claims it’s not physical. Nor mechanical: “No. I’ve watched every clip and every shot I’ve taken, and that’s what is frustrating to me. I’ve watched every shot. That’s the frustrating part of this. Everything is the same. Maybe a little fading here, a little drifting, but for the most part, everything is the same.”

That makes it psychological.

That barrier, and with it the Heat, might be too steep to scale.

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