Going into the season, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Boston Celtics were destined for an NBA Finals showdown with the Golden State Warriors. They’d taken the Cavs to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference championship last spring, without their two best players in the lineup, and so much of the conversation since has revolved around the many ways in which they are best equipped to challenge the champs.
But that’s why they actually decide the outcome of games on the court. With Kawhi Leonard headed to Toronto last summer, Raptors were inevitably going to improve this year, but that also came with the major caveat that the former Finals MVP would return to form as one of the league’s top five players.
Few of us expected it would happen so quickly and that the Raptors would jell so effortlessly. But that’s precisely what’s happened through the first 11 games of the season, ten of which Toronto has won en route to an 11-1 record and the top seed in the East. The addition of Kawhi has obviously been the major catalyst, but it’s been Kyle Lowry‘s stellar play that has been the engine driving their success.
It’s no secret why. The Raptors added two elite perimeter threats in Kawhi and Danny Green, which has gifted Lowry with all sorts of room to operate on opposing defenses in a way that simply didn’t previously exist. Here’s what head coach Nick Nurse had to say about Lowry’s improved play in a recent interview with Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports:
“His instincts to play hard almost amaze me nightly,” Nurse said about Lowry. “We’ve got an energetic team. We’ve got a deep team. That’s what we’re trying to do, play a bunch of guys and play with energy. (Lowry) really has got a lot of great alertness. He’s really into the games. You can see how locked in he is. That’s common for him. But again, he’s just seeing a lot more opportunities to deliver the ball to a variety of people. That is different. It’s spacing. He’s just seeing a lot more opportunities to dish the ball off to people this year. The spacing’s gotta be a big reason for it. His vision of what he’s seeing out there is changing a little bit.”
As a result, Lowry is averaging a career high in assists (11.5 per game) and shooting over 40 percent from downtown, which is the second highest mark of his 12 seasons in the NBA.