TAMPA, Fla. — If Wednesday night was Kyle Lowry's last game as a Raptor, the team and their six-time all-star will part ways on a high note.
Lowry had nine assists, eight points, and five rebounds -- and hugs from teammates when he exited the game -- and the Raptors finally snapped their ugly nine-game losing skid with an emphatic 135-111 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
The victory came on the eve of the NBA's trade deadline, and with Lowry and Norman Powell front and centre of numerous trade rumours.
Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 27 points, while OG Anunoby had 23, Powell added 22, and Fred VanVleet chipped in with 19 for Toronto (18-26).
Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., and Nikola Jokic had 20 points apiece for the Nuggets (26-18).
The Raptors built a 24-point first-half lead on sizzling shooting and better defensive hustle than they'd shown in awhile. They led 98-81 with one quarter to play.
A Lowry deep three-pointer, and three baskets from distance from Paul Watson, highlighted a 21-6 Raptors run in the third that had Toronto up by 29 points. Denver coach Michael Malone went deep into his bench for most of the final quarter.
Lowry headed to the bench with 5:43 to play, and was greeted with hugs from several teammates.
If the night did indeed mark the final game as a Raptor for Lowry, arguably the greatest player in franchise history, and/or Powell, coach Nick Nurse wasn't thinking about the magnitude of the moment.
"Have I thought about it being the last time?" he said before tipoff. "Heck, you know what? I approach it seriously like every night it might be the last night I coach these guys. For real. For real."
On a night with numerous storylines, the game featured an all-female broadcast for the first time in NBA history.
Canadian Meghan McPeak did the play-by-play, while Kia Nurse of the Canada's national team and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, provided analysis. Kayla Grey was the sideline reporter while Kate Beirness and Raptors 905 analyst Amy Audibert were the in-studio hosts.
The Raptors began the night mired in their longest losing streak in a decade -- the longest current streak in the NBA -- and dogged by mishaps, including a COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined Siakam, Anunoby and VanVleet for nearly three weeks.
Siakam's frustration boiled over after Nurse sat him for the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Cleveland. The Raptors disputed a report Siakam was fined $50,000 for his angry outburst, but Nurse said the Raptors' front office is dealing with his discipline.
Nurse said there's no rift between the two.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm coaching Pascal, It was not awkward one bit coaching him the next night," Nurse said. "That's where we are."
The game provided Nurse a close-up look at Murray, who he hopes to coach as part of the Canadian team this summer. Canada must win a last-chance qualifying tournament to earn an Olympic berth.
"(Murray) has been really positive and proactive even about saying how badly he wants to play for Canada," Nurse said. "He’s really smart. He’s found a couple things he’s doing when teams are doing some certain things to him that he’ll shift into another gear. Again, he’s smart, he’s intelligent. I’ve been impressed with the kind of quick learning-curve growth that he’s made to keep giving himself opportunities.”
The Raptors connected on their first five three-pointers and had seven in the opening quarter to lead 38-30 heading into the second.
Anunoby led the way with 13 points in the second as the Raptors built a 24-point lead. Toronto took a 72-54 lead into the halftime break.
The game was the first of a three-game homestand. The Raptors, who've played more road games than any other team in the league, play just five games on the road in their next 18.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2021.
The Canadian Press