Golden State Warriors, NBA Playoffs, Toronto Raptors

NBA Finals: The vindication of Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry joined the Raptors in the summer of 2012 without many expectations. He had only started 139 games over his first six seasons with Memphis and Houston, and while perhaps there was some untapped potential there, few could have projected how quickly and how fully he flowered north of the border. Toronto only had to give up Gary Forbes and a first-round pick to trade for him, after all. He was not acquired to be the team’s leader, to be their reliably steady hand, but he quickly became that and much more. Since joining Toronto, he has been named to five consecutive All-Star teams, beginning in 2015 and established himself as one of the more well-rounded and best point guards in the league. Of course, with greater success comes greater expectations.

Entering these playoffs, the Toronto Raptors franchise as a whole, and Kyle Lowry more specifically had a bit of a reputation. Despite years of regular season success, the team had come up short in the postseason year after year, appearing to wilt when the spotlight shone brightest. Their postseason showings did not align with what was expected by analysts or hoped for by fans so that in time, failure became the expectation. With the past summer’s trade of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry became the longest tenured Raptor and the one who most fully bore the blame for the team’s previous postseason woes, deservedly or not. But this offseason, and these Finals specifically, he showed that the previous narratives were, if not misrepresentations, at least not the full story.

Toronto had blown a very good opportunity to win the championship at home in Game 5, and while they had some margin for error entering Game 6, the idea of a climactic winner take all Game 7 against the two-time repeating champions would be more than a bit of a dicey proposition. To begin tonight’s game, Lowry showed an eagerness to close the series as quickly as possible, scoring the Raptors’ first 11 points. The Warriors fought back, though, refusing to relent at any point. But Lowry’s run gave Toronto a solid footing, a lead that they would alternate between relinquishing and taking back all night long until a Fred VanVleet 3-pointer with 3:46 left gave them a lead they would not give up again.

Throughout the rest of the evening, Lowry supplemented his initial 11 points with 15 more alongside 7 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals and a game-high plus-minus of +16. While Lowry was not the Finals MVP, it’s impossible to imagine the Raptors winning this game, let alone this championship, without Lowry’s guiding hand at the point guard spot — taking charges and nailing shots night after night. However, Lowry is more than the team’s guiding hand on the court; he’s also the Raptors’ beating heart. While it’s easy to be impressed by Lowry’s performance tonight, and throughout the postseason, it’s easier, at least for me, watching him lift the championship trophy with his children by his side, to just be happy for him.

Next: How two trades from 2013 helped make the Raptors title contenders

In the NBA, regular season success is obviously important, but legacies are shaped in the postseason. It’s where players go from good to great in the public eye, where they gain immortality they would not have otherwise. All-Star and All-NBA berths are nice, valuable things to have when building a reputation, seeking a new contract or an induction into the Hall of Fame, but championships are something qualitatively different. There is something ineffable and irreducible about what they mean to a player and their legacy. Any potential critiques of them vanish in light of the glare coming off the Larry O’Brien trophy they have won. And now, Kyle Lowry is more than a five-time All-Star, more than one of the greatest Raptors ever — he is an NBA Champion.

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