Kyle Lowry can’t help himself.
He knows it, everyone who’s ever been around him knows it, and when it was suggested that Raptors coach Nick Nurse might want to ease his top players back into action in the eight-game NBA “seeding season,” Lowry almost broke into open laughter.
It was one of the questions to which the answer was obvious, but it still had to be posed and Lowry answered the way everyone figured he would.
“So you know the answer,” he said.
The lights go on, the ball goes up, the score gets kept and Lowry can’t help himself. It is his sporting essence and why he is so central to whatever success the Raptors have.
“I think it does rub off and they play a little harder,” Nurse said of the impact of his 34-year-old point guard on his teammates.
That drive, that energy, that will from deep in the soul was never more evident than Saturday night when the Raptors resumed regular-season play with a 107-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was their first game since the NBA season went on hiatus on March 11, and it was as if he’d never missed a beat.
Lowry tried to take a charge from the estimable LeBron James, who is about seven inches taller and 70 pounds heavier and resembles a gigantic bounder rolling down a steep hill when he gets going.
Lowry also set a series of punishing screens, at one time stopping the six-foot-10, 260-pound Anthony Davis in his tracks and holding Davis off while teammate Pascal Siakam finished a basket at the rim.
There were 33 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, along with the usual pleading to and arguing with the officials, and a manic Lowry rushing to get a ball inbounds for a split-second advantage in transition.
All from someone who hasn’t been through a legitimate NBA game at full speed for well over 100 days.
“He came back in tremendous shape, which he always does whenever he has a couple months off,” coach Nick Nurse said. “He seems to get himself in incredible shape. He seems happy, he seems focused. I think he’s really excited and ready to play. That rubs off on the other guys; that’s what makes him a good leader.”
Lowry did it with belligerence and impish charm, making plays all over the floor — a wonderful example for his teammates, and a pain the buttocks for opponents.
“I just want to win games, have an opportunity to go out there and play for my teammates,” he said. “It’s big for me, to have an opportunity to go out there and play basketball.”
One of the things Lowry does best is bring teammates up to his own unyielding standards. The Raptors are an exquisitely talented group and entirely worthy of being mentioned as serious championship contenders. When they see their captain with no second gear, they feel compelled to match his intensity. Maybe they aren’t as good at taking charges or setting screens or making shots, but they see him doing all those things and they want to follow suit.
“I would like them to really copy him more, though,” Nurse said, half jokingly. “Really block out like he does and take more charges and all that kind of stuff.
“They do play with a good amount of energy and effort and connectivity because of him out there doing it and directing traffic and such, but I’d say I wish they really emulated him on some stuff.”
In post-game chats with reporters and television networks, Lowry made sure to make time to advance the cause of social justice that NBAers are involved in these days, another step in his evolution as a leader. But his play is also exemplary, and that will be the difference for the Raptors for as long as their defence of last season’s NBA title continues.
He’ll take charges, make shots, lead with the strength of his personality and the intensity of his play.
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He knows no other way.
“Understand that there’s going to be some ups and downs, and there’s going to be big waves and some low waves and there’s going to be some smooth sailing,” he said. “Just got to be able to ride the wave, no matter what it is. If it’s a high moment, you just stay even, just try to stay even-minded and level-headed, and that’s what we continue to do, what I continue to do.
“I take that approach every single day, and I think that’s where I’ve become a better person and a better man, a leader.”