Kyle Lowry soaked up the love from an adoring Toronto Raptors crowd. And then he led his Miami Heat to victory.
The former Raptor, who was feted with an emotional pre-game video and long standing ovation in his first game at Scotiabank Arena in more than two years, had 16 points and 10 assists to lead the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference to a 114-109 victory over Toronto.
“It meant the world to me for the fans to show their appreciation, give me an ovation like that, to be out on the floor with some of my former teammates, my brothers,” Lowry said. “The first time is always special. You don’t forget that.”
Fred VanVleet had 29 points, including four three-pointers to break Lowry’s record for threes in a season, for the Raptors (45-33), who saw their win streak end at five games.
Like they’d done countless time as teammates in practice, VanVleet and Lowry played furious defence against each other. Plenty of verbal jabs were muttered, but all in good fun, VanVleet said.
“He brings out a different competitive edge in myself and one of the reasons why I have been able to grow as a player in this league is because he sets the bar so high,” VanVleet said. “I wanted to get the win so obviously not happy about that, but that was a really fun game to be a part of and I’m happy that he got that experience here and got to do it with the fans in the building.
“I’m sure it was everything he deserves and more.”
Pascal Siakam added 29 points, while Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. scored 19 apiece. OG Anunoby sat out the game with a thigh contusion.
WATCH | Lowry leads Heat past Raptors:
Max Strus topped Miami (51-28) with 23 points.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse had joked pre-game that he hoped his team ruined Lowry’s evening.
“We love him, there’s no doubt about that. But you know what? My job now is to kick his ass,” Nurse said. “We’ll see what happens.”
The first half played out that way as Toronto raced out to a 13-point lead, but the Heat clawed their way back with a 26-13 run in the third quarter and led 79-78 to start the fourth.
Thaddeus Young hurled a cross-court pass to Trent Jr., whose three-pointer put Toronto up 91-87. But Lowry’s three in front of the Raptors bench sparked a 20-6 Heat run that had the visitors up by 10 with 2:22 to play.
A cutting dunk by Chris Boucher sliced the difference to four with 15.2 seconds left, but it was too little late for the Raptors, who lost for just the third time in 14 games.
WATCH | Lowry gets standing ovation in return to Toronto:
On a day that Mayor John Tory declared “Kyle Lowry Day” in Toronto, Lowry vowed there would no tears during the pre-game festivities.
“I know if I cry, DeMar [DeRozan] will make fun of me and it’s gonna go viral,” Lowry joked about his friend and former teammate.
Following the video tribute that spanned his Raptors career, the 36-year-old guard was introduced with the familiar: “From North Philly, to your city. Kyle Luh-luh-luh-luh-Lowry!”
Looking overwhelmed by the long ovation, but dry-eyed as promised, Lowry raised his arms in gratitude at centre-court, his sons Karter and Kameron by his side.
‘I missed everything about this city’
Lowry became the cornerstone of the Raptors’ franchise through his nine seasons in Toronto, instilling a scrappy, workmanlike approach that the team rode to their historic 2019 NBA championship. He’s the franchise leader in assists (4,277), steals (873), three-pointers (1,518) and triple-doubles (16).
Lowry was traded to Miami last summer for Precious Achiuwa and Goran Dragic in what was an amicable split, saying, “It was just time. It was naturally a good phase-out.”
Arriving from Chicago early Sunday morning, where the Heat was beaten 127-109 by DeRozan and the Bulls, Lowry said it was an emotional drive along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway into the city, past familiar landmarks like BMO Field, the CN Tower, and the team’s practice facility at OVO Athletic Centre.
“It’s home, the place I was for a long, long time. So it was cool,” said Lowry, who’d posted the word “Home” with two Canadian flags on his Instagram on Sunday.
“I missed everything about the city, the country, the organization,” he said. “It’s a lot to miss.”
Lowry strolled into the pre-game media conference wearing a stylish blue suit and his championship ring, which looked like a jumbo glittered jawbreaker, on his right ring finger.
“Something special,” he said, twisting the ring with his left hand. “It’s special to me and the city and the country and the organization, so why not wear it?”
Lowry had originally been scheduled to play at Scotiabank Feb. 1. That game fell during two weeks he took off for personal reasons. Plus, COVID-19 restrictions meant only a few hundred fans were in the building that night.
“I can only imagine the emotions that [Lowry] was going through,” acting coach Chris Quinn said on the festivities. “Nine years of this city, the wins, the ups, the downs, the championship. I could tell he was definitely feeling a mixed range of emotions. And to be able to celebrate that with his kids, I’m surprised he was able to reel it back in and play so well.
“Obviously we needed him tonight as the quarterback of our team. What a cool night.”
The magnitude of the game stretched beyond Lowry’s return. With just four games left in the regular-season, the Raptors want to lock up a top-six spot in the Eastern Conference to avoid the play-in tournament. The Raptors are sixth, two-and-a-half games ahead of Cleveland. The Heat, who were missing head coach Erik Spoelstra to COVID-19 safety protocols, have a two-game lead over Boston atop the conference.
Lowry scored Miami’s first points with three free throws, then fed Markieff Morris for a layup. But the Raptors dominated the quarter and went up by 13 when Achiuwa drove to the hoop late in the frame. Toronto led 34-28 to start the second.
The Heat pulled to within four in the second quarter, but the Raptors ended the frame with an 8-2 run for a 55-45 lead at the halftime break.
The Raptors host the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, Philadelphia on Thursday and Houston on Friday.