LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — When the Toronto Raptors tip off the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston, they want Kyle Lowry on the floor.
The point guard is their veteran leader, the guy who means so much more to them than stats would ever show. Beating undermanned Brooklyn without him was easy. Getting by the Celtics if he’s sidelined would not be.
But it would be foolish to count the Raptors out. Losing Kawhi Leonard last summer didn’t wreck them and playing without Lowry wouldn’t either.
“You’ve got to go out there with who’s healthy and available and you’ve got to think that there’s a good chance you can figure out a way to win,” coach Nick Nurse said. “And that’s what we’ll do either way.”
It’s what the Raptors have done all season. Not only did they lose the NBA Finals MVP when Leonard left, but they then had each of their top five scorers miss at least 10 games because of injury.
So their reserves are used to being counted on, and when Lowry injured his foot in the first quarter Sunday and Fred VanVleet picked up three fouls in the first half, they picked up the slack in a record way. Toronto’s bench scored 100 points, most in any game since official starters began being tracked in 1970-71, and finished a sweep of the Nets with a 150-122 victory.
The Celtics also swept their first-round series so the start of the East semis was moved up to Thursday. That gives Lowry a few days to be ready and Nurse said it if he’s not, it won’t be because of a minor injury.
“I mean, he played with I don’t know how many, 14 or 16 straight playoff games last year with a totally messed up left thumb when we were running through the finals last year, so it’s going to take something pretty serious to keep him out,” Nurse said.
The Raptors are 11-1 since the NBA restart, with the lone loss to the Celtics. Boston also won in Toronto on Christmas, with the Raptors avenging that loss on the road three days later.
Now the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds meet again in the playoffs, with the Raptors hoping Lowry will be ready for a matchup with Kemba Walker.
“I think it’s going to be a fun series and I’m kind of bummed that we’re not going to have the fans, that intensity down at TD Garden and that our fans bring at Scotiabank,” Raptors reserve Norman Powell said.
“I think that’s an added element that is going to be missed, but we’ve got two teams that are very deep, very talented and it’s going to take everybody on our end to pull this one out and go in there and do what we have to do.”