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Lowry in top form as the Raptors knock off the Lakers in first game back

Raptors’ Kyle Lowry drives to the basket against L.A. Lakers J.R. Smith (right) in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last night.  Getty Images
Raptors’ Kyle Lowry drives to the basket against L.A. Lakers J.R. Smith (right) in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last night.  Getty Images

Kyle Lowry played an integral role in helping the NBA restart.

Clearly, he’s not about to let that effort go to waste.

In his, and his Raptors’, first game in 145 days that will actually count in the standings, Lowry wasn’t in mid-season form. He was in playoff form, leading the Raptors to a 107-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Orlando, Fla.

Lowry was everywhere, scoring the basketball, putting his body on the line with his league-best 31st charge drawn, rebounding like a seven-footer and still finding time to set up teammates, as well.

But Lowry’s dominance 33 points, 14 rebounds and six assists — doesn’t stand up without the Raptors’ calling-card defence that was back at full force, limiting Anthony Davis to just 2-of-7 shooting for the game and holding down LeBron James for the first three quarters before he rallied for a decent fourth quarter and finish with a team-high 20 points. The Lakers shot just 35% for the game.

“I think I remember one timeout looking down and I said: ‘Jeez, we’re shooting 30% and we’re winning,’” head coach Nick Nurse said. “And that’s kinda what good defence is supposed to do. Get you through some of those moments and, obviously, we put up 66 in the second half, or something like that. The offence got on track, the ball started going in and I thought the defence was really good tonight. Really, really, aggressive and connected, and really into the game plan. It was really fun for me to see.”

On any other night, this story would have started with OG Anunoby and, quite honestly, it could have, were Lowry’s impact not all over this game.

That said, Anunoby was a force wherever he went, as well. On defence, he was the primary defender on James, whom the Lakers need more from, particularly with Davis struggling, if they are to meet the lofty expectations the basketball world has for them.

The Raptors sent a nice little message that maybe those expectations aren’t correctly placed, though that argument won’t be settled for some time yet.

This is far from the first time Anunoby has drawn this pivotal defensive assignment of matching up with James, and he’s learned from every one.

“The experience helps, studying more film, knowing the tendencies,” Anunoby said of guarding the most physically dominant player in the game. “I think you learn more each time you do it, so that always helps.”

Clearly, Anunoby has been putting time in, not just on the court but in the film room as well, because he was into James and making it tough on him all evening.

Anunoby was also instrumental in the very most crucial part of the game. After James hit back-to-back threes in the third quarter to give L.A. a lead, it looked like momentum had swung heavily in the Lakers’ favour. But Anunoby responded with back-to-back threes of his own, putting the Raptors back in charge.

“I think we have a lot of confidence,” Anunoby said. “We think we’re a really good team, we just come into every game thinking we can win and I think it shows on the court in how we play.”

It was just another example of the growth in his game even within this elongated season.

“OG was unbelievable,” Lowry said. “His growth and his maturity just continue to get better and I’m proud of him. The one thing about OG, man, guys understand him as much as they want to, but he’s going to be really good in this league for a long time.”

Told of Lowry’s kind words, OG sent the good feelings right back.

“He’s an all-star, six-time, Olympic-medallist, a champion, so he’s really accomplished in this league so for him to see that in me it means a lot to me,” Anunoby said.

On this night, the only real battle the Raptors lost decisively was off the bench, where they were outscored 50-15.

Lowry played 35 minutes and was unbelievable in every one of them. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he looked every bit as locked in on this night as he did on that memorable night last June when the Raptors closed out their first NBA championship on Golden State’s floor.

The difference this time around was the dominance was from the opening tip to the moment he left the court for the last time, which came only when the game was truly in Toronto’s grasp.

“I just want to win games,” Lowry said. “To have an opportunity to go out there and play for my teammates, it’s big for me, to have an opportunity to go out there and play basketball and have an opportunity to go out here and spread our social messages that we have, Black Lives Matter. Go out there and talk about voter suppression … education reform, worrying about getting justice for Breonna Taylor. These are all things that are getting me going right now and have me out there doing the best I can.”

This was the first of eight seeding games the Raptors will play before heading into the playoffs.

They currently sit in the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference and their win combined with a Boston loss on Friday extends that lead on the third-seeded Celtics to a full four games.

Next up for the Raptors is a holiday Monday afternoon matchup with a dangerous Miami Heat team.

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