Diego Costa made it through about eight minutes of the 2014 Champions League final. He’d suffered a hamstring tear the week before, and it didn’t seem possible he could run with it. He went to some quack in Serbia and got his muscles electroshocked. The doc rubbed him down with cream that had horse placenta in it. Costa said he was feeling better, and he started the match. He clearly wasn’t 100 percent, wasn’t 80 percent. After one tussle with Sergio Ramos in the box, he called out to the bench and pointed to his thigh. When he came off, he jogged straight to the locker room for treatment. He had to at least try to play—he was his team’s best player—but in the end he physically couldn’t.
That’s what I thought of when Kevin Durant turned, grimaced, let go of the ball, and sat down. Though he had made a few shots before exiting the floor, he looked significantly less than right: he ran tenderly; his lateral movement was nil. In any other circumstance, he would have been watching his teammates from the trainer’s table, but the win or go home stakes enticed him to give it a go. He had also spent the past week catching shaming insinuations from various Bay Area beat hacks that he wasn’t really all that injured and just didn’t feel like playing through pain. These people haven’t recanted despite Durant’s lower leg clearly giving out beneath him like a termite-decimated floor beam, but then you can never expect folks like that to practice introspection.
Without Durant, the Warriors have demonstrated that they’re beatable, and this game was there for the Raptors, who kept missing open jumpers and occasionally losing track of Klay Thompson when he was the only decent off-ball shooter on the entire court. Until his immense fourth quarter outburst, Kawhi Leonard was surprisingly poor. The Warriors’ interior defense waterlogged his circuit board and he literally handed the ball off to an opponent a couple times. Klay and Steph Curry were as good as you would expect them to be in an elimination contest. Calorie-free cliche incoming: you have to beat them in order to beat them. Toronto came up a tad short of a championship-winning performance, both practically and in a platonic sense.
It feels cruel to focus on Kyle Lowry in a game that ended with him chucking the ball off the side of the backboard instead of ending the series with an exclamation point, mostly because that moment describes a Lowry that exists in the minds of his most churlish detractors. (And anyway, Draymond Green got a finger to it.) But there are several Kyle Lowrys, and it’s sometimes hard to reconcile the one that’s currently presenting itself with the several others that also exist.
Lowry is beloved by basketball technocrats because he plays the game like they imagine they would. He has such a deep understanding of the game, and at times so keenly implements it that it gives the impression he’s reverse engineering his play from tape he’s studying the next day. Have you ever encountered someone who speaks in fully formed paragraphs? At his best, Lowry is like this. There’s a powerful lucidity to his actions. The architecture of his decision-making is all clean lines.
This is a bone-dry way of appreciating a player who’s fascinating for a bunch of other reasons, but it’s pointless to tell other people how to look at the sunset. What this slant on Lowry willfully ignores, though, is that he’s a spectacular spaz. He’ll push the ball against a mismatch and dive into a foul. He’ll box out a bigger body with his positional knowhow and his giant ass. He’ll also pass the ball to an empty space where nobody is or even should be, or trip over his own feet on a drive with no discernible endpoint. There are times when Lowry sees something before anybody else does, and times when he’s 14 Schlitzes deep and insisting on driving everyone at the party to Denny’s. There’s a reason he’s never been compared favorably to Chris Paul.
The horrendous buzzer-beater is whatever, but the true Melting Lowry play—going against the grain of an otherwise strong game—came with about a minute-and-a-half left, when he drove, didn’t want to shoot, and haphazardly tossed the ball in the general direction of Marc Gasol. The big man would have struggled to get a decent shot off even if he had caught it, because Lowry had taken off late and the shot clock was down to almost nothing, but his point guard also managed to throw it about five feet to Gasol’s right. Lousy turnover. On the very next play, Curry hit a three to knot the score at 103.
This isn’t indicative of any defect in Lowry’s character, or proof that he can’t come through in a big moment. He did, after all, score the Raptors’ final bucket to narrow the lead to a single point. He simply forgets what to do sometimes, which is unfortunate because one of his strengths is knowing what to do better than anybody else in the building. He’s a genius until he’s especially not one. There’s time, if not a lot of it, for him to make amends, or maybe more preferably for everyone involved, for the Raptors to handle the Warriors by multiple possessions in one of the next two contests. The notion that the playoffs are not Kyle Lowry’s thing is a myth, but navigating the finest of margins is not his thing either. You let him roll those bones enough times, the dice are going to land in somebody’s drink.