THE FREAK SHOW
The Raptors will face the NBA’s most athletic big man when they meet the young Bucks in the playoffs,
CLEVELAND— Kyle Lowry was under no illusions about what the 82nd and final game of a long NBA season meant to the Toronto Raptors here Wednesday.
Sure, they kept score — so winning was preferable to not winning — but Lowry had more important things to work on during is abbreviated evening.
“Just get some reps, get some minutes,” he said. “Get everybody on the floor, get some cardio in and try and work on some habits and that’s what (Wednesday) is basically about.”
Lowry got what he needed, a good run that left him closer to 100 per cent comfortable with the speed of a real NBA game. And he came out of the evening unscathed.
The Raptors point guard scored 13 points and had four assists in 17 firsthalf minutes of Toronto’s 98-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers but that was almost secondary to the fact he got some time in. The other shenanigans of a meaningless game provided a handful of talking points.
“Yeah, that’s just being on the floor together with the same group of guys,” Lowry said of the improvement he saw in his first three games back after wrist surgery. “(The game) is going to be a little different because everyone is not going to be on the floor for long stretches but I think we will be able to figure it out.”
Everyone not being on the floor was the understatement of the night.
DeMar DeRozan was stricken with some flu bug he picked up Monday and didn’t play; Serge Ibaka had played 79 games this season split between Orlando and Toronto and he got the night off; the Cavs treated it as nothing more than a meaningless exhibition game, playing without LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
“Enough talking, the playoffs are here,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “It’s time to put up or shut up and I think we’ll put up.”
But while the Cavs gave a handful of regulars the evening off, Toronto at least got some game-speed run for many of its principles Jonas Valanciunas made the first three-pointer of his career, connecting on a silkysmooth jumper in the second quarter. He had taken 2,922 shots in his first 363 games before Tuesday, and was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc, each a buzzer-beating heave.
Valanciunas finished with 13 points in 16 first-half minutes before he and Lowry joined DeRozan and Ibaka on the bench for the entire second half.
It left coach Dwane Casey to send out some never-before-seen lineups, including one that had Delon Wright, Norm Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl that would be more predictable for a Raptors 905 game in Mississauga than an NBA game at Quicken Loans Arena. Powell finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
But for the first half, Casey got what he wanted, some time for some regulars and a chance to give Lowry an opportunity at true NBA game speed.
“This game is about habits and when you go out and feel like, ‘OK we’re going to go through the motions tonight and we’ll turn it on next week’ we’re kidding ourselves,” Casey said. “Our culture has got to be we don’t take anyone for granted. We don’t fear anybody, but we don’t take anyone for granted and don’t feel we’re better than any body else.”
The Raptors and Cavaliers finished with identical 51-31 records and the Cavs finished second in the East by virtue of having the tiebreaker over Toronto. Boston finished first overall.
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, left, battling for a loose ball with Cleveland’s J.R. Smith, had 13 points and four assists in 17 minutes Wednesday.