When Kyle Lowry hobbled off the floor early in Sunday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, his departure could have spelled trouble for the Toronto Raptors.
Instead, the Raptors’ bench delivered the best performance in NBA history.
Norm Powell poured in 29 points and Serge Ibaka scored 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and the Raptors clobbered Brooklyn 150-122 on Sunday to roar into the Eastern Conference semifinals on the heels of their first playoff series sweep in franchise history.
The Raptors bench scored an NBA-record 100 points, while Toronto’s 150 points were a franchise record.
WATCH | Raptors reserves combine for 100 points in win:
As they’d done so many times before in a season plagued by injuries, the Raptors relied on: next man up.
“We just have confidence in each and every one of us that step on the floor and we work on offence,” Powell said. “I don’t think it really matters who’s in the game.
The defending NBA champions will face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Game 1 goes Thursday, and the Raptors will need Lowry in the lineup against what should be a much tougher opponent in Boston, the only team to beat Toronto in the NBA restart.
The six-time all-star appeared to roll his left ankle when he stepped on Chris Chiozza’s foot, briefly attempted to keep playing but then hopped to the locker room with 2:48 left in the first quarter. Lowry, who had two points and three assists in nine minutes, then departed the arena for diagnostic imaging elsewhere on the NBA campus.
WATCH | Lowry leaves game with injury:
“It would hurt us a lot,” coach Nick Nurse said on the prospect of playing without Lowry. “You guys know how big a cog he is to this whole thing. He’s our most experienced, toughest leader we got.
Nurse said he didn’t want to speculate on Lowry’s status.
“[But] I would imagine this: It’s going to be a hell of an injury to keep him off the floor. It’s not going to be a little thing; he’s going to try to figure it out.
Nurse pointed out that Lowry damaged ligaments in his left thumb in Game 7 of the conference semifinals last season, and played the remainder of the Raptors’ historic championship run, wearing a compression glove that resembled an oven mitt when he wasn’t playing. He underwent surgery soon after.
“It’s gonna take something pretty serious to keep him out,” said Nurse, who posed with his Red Auerbach Trophy for winning NBA coach of the year with team president Masai Ujiri before tipoff.
In the absence of Lowry, the Raptors would “do it by committee,” said Nurse. Sunday was the perfect example of that. Fred VanVleet had three fouls when Lowry left the game, then Powell picked up his third foul with 7:31 to play in the first half.
‘Resilience as a group’
The entire team stepped up though as Pascal Siakam had 20 points, Terence Davis finished with 14, Matt Thomas chipped in with 12 and OG Anunoby had 10.
Caris LeVert had 35 points to top the Nets.
“We had an extreme resilience as a group, a competitive nature about us as a group and a sacrifice as a group for the men who came, and extremely grateful for this group and the time we spent together,” coach Jacque Vaughn said.
The Raptors’ regular season was a lesson in playing shorthanded. They were battered by injuries, going 12-2 without Lowry in the lineup. Their resilience showed in their No. 2 finish in the East despite being fifth in the league in games lost to injuries.
“We’ve literally, probably faced every situation that you can possibly face in a season within a team,” Powell said. “When things like that unexpected happen, you’re able to refocus and figure it out along the way and we did a great job with that all year long. It’s a situation we’ve seen before. . . we’re not rattled.”
The Raptors rallied after Lowry’s departure. They led by 17 points in the second quarter, had stretched the difference to 27 points by midway through the third and, when Davis banked in a 30-footer at the buzzer to end the quarter, the Raptors took an insurmountable 116-87 lead into the fourth.
“We know the secrets, man,” Ibaka said. “The secrets of winning in this league are you have to come and play hard every night, to play as a team, and to defend, to play hard at both ends of the floor, to run, to play for your teammates. We know. That’s why we won last year. And then that’s why we’re going to try to go again to win this year.”
Ibaka said he hopes Lowry can play Thursday.
“We say it a lot, but he’s very important for us. He’s our motor. Hopefully he can be ready for the first game, because we need him big time, man. We need him big time,” he said.
Turning the tables
The Raptors had been swept four times in their 19 previous playoff series, by New York (3-0) in 2000, Washington in 2015, and Cleveland twice in 2017 and ’18.
The Raptors now face Boston for the first time in post-season history after the Celtics beat Philadelphia 110-106 earlier Sunday for a four-game series sweep.
Boston won three of the four regular-season meetings with Toronto, including a 22-point victory over the Raptors on Aug. 7 inside the NBA bubble.
On Sunday, the lead changed hands 11 times in the see-saw first quarter, and the Raptors led 39-32 to start the second.
Ibaka had a big second quarter, shooting 7-for-8 for 15 points. Thomas’s long jump shot capped a 17-8 Raptors run that had Toronto up by 17 points midway through the frame, and the Raptors headed into the halftime break with a 77-68 lead.
This was the third time the Raptors had faced the Nets in the post-season. Their seven-game series against Brooklyn in 2014 was a turning point for the franchise, which has made the playoffs every season since. That season saw the birth of Jurassic Park and “We the North.” The Raptors lost Game 7 104-103 after Lowry’s shot at the buzzer was blocked by Paul Pierce.
The Raptors won Games 1 through 3 by scores of: 134-110, 104-99 and 117-92.