Because of an ankle injury, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry didn’t play in Game 3 despite being active. 

It was the first game back in Toronto and, despite making every attempt to see the court, the medical staff thought it was best Lowry not try to play. He had a career-best regular season and was the only Raptor to show up in the first two games against the Cavaliers. Both losses came by double-digits, but Lowry was Toronto’s leading scorer with an average of 20 points a night on 56 percent from the field. Additionally, he helped facilitate a bland offense and handed out 16 dimes across the two contests.

You can’t overlook his defense, either. When Lowry’s out there, the Raptors are just a different team. That’s why it was shocking when they played Cleveland competitively on Saturday — albeit for three quarters. The initial 36 minutes featured seven lead changes and 10 ties. And Toronto actually lead by a many as five points. DeMar DeRozan was incredibly hot and, before anyone overreacts, he’s not better without Lowry.

Through three quarters, however, it seemed that way. DeRozan, who played like trash in the first two games (12 points a night on 33.3 percent), was finally able to explode. He pummeled the Cavaliers in quarters two and three with 13 and 15 points, respectively. After the third, his total was 36. He went 12-of-21 from the field and 12-of-12 from the line. Since he was getting a majority of the looks, he benefitted.

Cleveland then flipped the switch in the fourth and crushed any hopes the Raptors had of winning the game. In that quarter alone, the Cavs outscored Toronto 36-17, and LeBron James was just having his way with whoever was guarding him, much like DeRozan through the first three frames. The King had 13 in the period as Cleveland went to their sans-Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love lineup, and this is where the Raptors could’ve used Lowry.

Because of how deadly he was in the first two meetings, Cleveland would’ve had to defend him hard in the fourth — sending double teams once he passes mid-court, ideally. Other guys would’ve then been able to get involved and, even though Toronto hasn’t looked great, they’ve played at their best when Lowry is sharing the rock. Norman Powell gets involved, as does Serge Ibaka. At that point, combined with DeRozan hot hand, we would’ve had a close game. Instead, Cleveland’s swarming defense harassed everybody, including DeRozan.

He had just one point in his six minutes of action. Moreover, he had only two shot attempts. Jonas Valanciunas‘s 10 points led Toronto that period. Powell also had a forgettable quarter, going 1-of-7 from the field with just two points, and he got hit the hardest by Lowry’s injury.

Powell’s 36 minutes played are significantly more than the 23.7 he averaged in the first two games. He got the task of guarding James. Fortunately for him, LeBron was rather passive to start the night, but Powell is one of the biggest mismatches the Raptors can throw at James. Giving up four inches and at least 40 pounds isn’t favorable. Powell only covered him when the starters were out there, but Toronto had to keep him on the court because of their guard shortage. Lowry limits Powell’s minutes and gives way to the guys like PJ Tucker and Ibaka to defend James. They aren’t LeBron-stoppers, but they can slow him down better than Powell can just from a size standpoint.

Also Read: LeBron James Is Blatantly Disrespecting the Raptors

Lowry’s questionable for Game 4, but this series is a lost cause. Even if he plays and the Raptors win, they’d have to win twice in Cleveland to complete the nearly improbable comeback. I don’t see that happening. Had he seen the court and helped the Raptors steal this one, we’re having a different conversation. Conversely, there’s the argument about just how effective he would’ve been.

After warming up, Lowry wasn’t looking too great as the teams headed back to the locker rooms.

“He was limping badly,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey to Ian Harrison of the Associated Press. “He just couldn’t go. He wanted to. The doctors and trainers and medical people were just telling him he shouldn’t try to go because he was in so much pain.”

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