On one of the most emotional nights of the NBA season at the Air Canada Centre, an injured Kyle Lowry tried to serve as an assistant coach, barking at his teammates from the Raptors bench during each and every time out. Your thoughts, coach Dwane Casey? “Frankly, I prefer him in uniform than street clothes,” laughed Casey after the shorthanded Raptors defeated the Indiana Pacers 102-94 in front of an electric throng on Friday. And if Casey has any say, Lowry will be wearing that Raptors jersey for years to come. In fact, prior to the game, the coach echoed MLSE president Tim Leiweke’s recent comments concerning hopes of locking up the pending free agent long-term. That the Raptors could defeat Indiana — the second place team in the Eastern Conference — with two of their five starters out of the lineup due to injury speaks to the resolve and depth that this playoff-bound team has developed. Missing both Lowry and forward Amir Johnson, the Raptors adopted Casey’s mantra of next man up and inflicted their will on the Pacers, both physically and on the scoreboard. Beefy Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas collected 22 points and chipped in with seven rebounds. Terrence Ross was Toronto’s leading scorer with 24 points. And then there was swingman John Salmons, whose shoving of Pacers star Paul George late in the third quarter let the visitors know that the Raptors were not about to be run over in their own house. “I just thought he was holding on to me,” George said. “Refs let it go, so I gave him a bump and he gave me a bump back.” In the end, it would be the Pacers who wobbled, coughing up a 94-92 lead by allowing the Raptors to score the game’s final 10 points. “You have to give the Raptors credit playing a heck of a basketball game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I thought the three starters they had in the game really stepped up. “All three of those guys — DeMar (DeRozan), Terrence (Ross) and Jonas (Valanciunas) just played out of their minds.” Down the hallway in the Raptors locker room, there certainly was no shortage of confidence. “(This win) means a lot,” DeRozan said. “With us, we feel like we can beat anybody when we step out there on the court honestly.” Of course, those victories would come a lot easier with Lowry in the lineup for the Raptors, who remained tied for third in the East with Chicago after the Bulls beat Milwaukee 102-90 on Friday night. The topic of Lowry’s future came up when Casey was asked about his thoughts on Leiweke’s take to CBC earlier this week that the plan was to lock up Lowry to a deal that would keep him in Toronto for years. In that regard, the Raptors head coach couldn’t agree more. “That’s out of my department,” Casey said. “That’s the front office. That’s their paycheck. I would if I was general manager of a team. But that’s their decision. “Kyle has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s helped put us in this position with this team. He’s grown, he’s matured, and that’s huge as far as we’re concerned.” While Lowry is averaging 17.4 points, 7.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game this season, he also has carried the reputation as being a loose cannon, an at-times volatile figure who can give a head coach headaches. But Casey quickly came to the defence of his sidelined warrior when that subject came up. “Kyle’s never been uncoachable ... He’s no different than any other star player,” Casey said. “He’s going to disagree with the coach. He’s always done that. He’s been more coachable since he’s been here but he’s never been uncoachable as far as being a leader. “Again, coaches and point guards have often seen things differently. There’s often times where a head coach concedes to a point guard’s wishes in certain situations. That’s the type of relationship Kyle and I have developed.” It’s a bond that Leiweke acknowledged earlier this week. “This town should be in love with this guy. What a great story,” Leiweke said of Lowry.
Short-handed Raptors take down Pacers
Toronto Sun | Apr 5