Raptors fans struggled to see it at the time, but when Kyle Lowry was sidelined after the All-Star break due to wrist surgery, there was a faint shimmer of a silver lining.
Lowry, who appeared to be worn down as he struggled mightily during the 2016 playoffs, would have time to rest before returning to the lineup for another strong playoff run in 2017. A wrist injury would allow him to keep his legs active post-surgery. His role during recovery as a defacto player-coach kept his mind focused on Raptors basketball. Most importantly, a 21-game absence that spared the All-Star guard of the bruising grind that is the NBA regular season afforded Lowry the opportunity to enter the 2017 playoffs fresh.
But Lowry’s poor performance in Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks did nothing but add to what’s quickly becoming a dubious postseason reputation.
In 2016, Lowry scored fewer than 20 points in all but one of the first nine playoff games. The same player who averaged 21.2 points-per-game in the regular season managed to average just 13.5 ppg during that nine-game stretch, before busting out of his slump with 33 points in Game 3 of the second round against Miami.
Lowry enjoyed a handful of great games during last year’s playoffs — perhaps none as big as his 35-point night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers — but his slow start in the first two rounds forced Toronto to go seven games deep with both Indiana and Miami.
And then there’s this dubious distinction from Basketball Reference: Kyle Lowry currently has the second-worst playoff shooting percentage in the history of the NBA/BAA. Out of the dozens of players that have attempted at least 200 field goals from 1946-2017, Lowry nearly sits in dead last with .379 shooting. Jamal Crawford, who’s still active in the playoffs with the Clippers, has the worst percentage at .378.
Making matters worse for Raptors fans is the fact that Demar DeRozan also sits pretty low on this list — fourth from the bottom, to be exact, at .391 shooting. But with 27 points Saturday in Game 1 against Milwaukee, DeRozan’s play has shifted the spotlight directly on his backcourt teammate.
Lowry has made it very clear that he intends to opt out of the final year of his contract with Toronto, making him a free agent this summer. And while he’s widely expected to re-sign with the Raptors, it’s certainly possible that Lowry enters free agency with a reputation unbecoming of a superstar. Any potential suitors, including the Raptors, may be a bit hesitant to give big money to a player that often goes dark in the playoffs. Especially when that player is on the wrong side of 30.
Lowry will look to rebound in Game 2 against the Bucks, as the Raptors attempt to even this series at one game apiece. But it’s becoming clear that Lowry has a lot more to play for than just the success of his team. With his reputation as a big-game performer on the line, Lowry has a lot riding on the 2017 playoffs. There’s little-to-no silver lining for Lowry, or the Raptors, if the All-Star guard continues to struggle when the games matter the most.
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