TORONTO -- He took an elbow to the groin, got smacked upside the head, and was accosted on the sideline. He made just eight of 23 shots in the two games. It was a hell of a homecoming.
Kyle Lowry enjoyed himself thoroughly.
"I kind of love it. I wouldn’t change it,” Lowry told me after the Raptors’ film session Monday afternoon. “It wouldn’t be Philadelphia. I wouldn’t be who I am.”
Who is he? Incredibly, he is Philly’s latest villain. Incredibly, because, this time, the villain is homegrown.
At least he knows what to expect.
“They’re ruthless. Being from there, I know they’re die-hard fans. They don’t give a damn who you are, where you’re from, how you look,” Lowry said as he leaned against the wall. He scuffed off one of his black shower slides, curled his lip into his signature sneer smile, and resigned himself to this harsh reality:
"If you’re wearing the opposing jersey, they’re going to say, ‘[Bleep] you. Die slow.’ "
(Bleep) you. Die slow.
How did this enmity develop? How did this favorite son turn prodigal?
Lowry is, after all, the ultimate Philly NBA success story -- a 6-foot-1 overachiever, a little guy who made it big. He starred at Cardinal Dougherty, then at Villanova, but he needed four years of apprenticeship before he even became an NBA starter. He’s a five-time All-Star now, but in getting here he carried a chip on his shoulder the size of the Wells Fargo Center, where he used to watch his idol and fellow contrarian Allen Iverson leave skin and sweat all over the court, as Lowry still does now, at the age of 33.
Lowry has not been Iverson-like in this series. Jimmy Butler has smothered him. Lowry is averaging just 9.5 points, is shooting 38 percent from the field, 20 percent from three. But his Raptors are tied with the Sixers, 2-2, as the Eastern Conference semifinal resumes Tuesday night in Toronto, his home away from home.
Although Lowry has been a pro for 13 seasons, everything about him still reeks of 20th and Lehigh. He is the Philadelphia archetype: mercurial and resentful but insanely loyal and ever ready for a fight. He often is introduced at Raptors home games not as a Villanova product, but rather, "Out of North Philly ... " He lives in the Philadelphia area in summers and trains at his old college with newly named St. Joseph’s coach Billy Lange, who recruited him to Villanova. Lowry gives away backpacks to school kids and donates turkeys at Thanksgiving.
Lowry has played against the Sixers 32 times in the regular season, but this is the first time he’s faced them in the playoffs. He loves Philly.
Right now, Philly does not love him back. This is why.
In Game 3 on Thursday, Lowry low-bridged Ben Simmons on a rebound, then, while Simmons was on the floor, Lowry thrust his butt in Simmons’ face. Simmons responded with an elbow that landed in Lowry’s nether regions. Lowry fell to the court, writhing in that particular pain only men can know. Simmons was fined $20,000. Lowry claimed that he actually lobbied the NBA to not fine Simmons.
“I told the league he’d apologized. I told the league it was nothing. I didn’t want anything,” Lowry said. “It didn’t get called on the floor. I’m not going to dwell on it. People will try to make a big deal about it. It’s not a big deal. It’s over, he got fined. They did their due diligence. Me and Ben are fine.”
Then, in Game 4 on Sunday, Lowry protested a call late in the second quarter. He was taunted at close quarters on the sideline by longtime Sixers fan Alan Horwitz -- another instance of a fan overstepping the bounds of propriety, which Horwitz often does. Lowry stopped, replied to Horwitz, who fired back at Lowry. Lowry then asked official Josh Tiven to keep Horwitz from coming so close to the court.
Joel Embiid’s father, Thomas, sat two seats away, laughing at the exchange. In the third quarter, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris, who sat five seats away, spoke animatedly with Horwitz during a stoppage in the third quarter, after which Horwitz was more subdued. Through a spokesman Monday, Harris declined to comment about their exchange.
Lowry shrugged that off, too.
“He stood up and, like, you know -- I just told him he got a little too close,” said Lowry, who said Horwitz said nothing inappropriate. “He apologized. He said, ‘I’m just a big Sixers fan.’ I respect him. I know who he is. He’s been there forever.”
Lowry also knows Horwitz will be there again for Game 6 on Thursday night.
Finally, in the third quarter, when JJ Redick challenged Lowry for a loose ball, he forced Lowry’s right hand into the right side of Lowry’s own face. In the moment, Lowry was outraged that Tiven did not call a foul.
Monday morning, Lowry was sheepish.
“I heard I hit myself. I thought it was him. I didn’t know,” Lowry insisted. “I thought it was his hand. It wasn’t."
Lowry said that the next time he sees Tiven, he will apologize for complaining: "My bad, Josh, for yelling at you. I was wrong.”
Most of the subplots in these Games of Groans revolved around Embiid’s various maladies, Simmons’ nonexistent perimeter game, and the unmatched excellence of the Raptors’ sphinxian star Kawhi Leonard, who is channeling Jordan and Kobe. Perhaps Lowry’s dust-ups have distracted observers from observing how little he has contributed to the box score.
Or, perhaps his overall performance makes his field-goal percentage less relevant.
“Percentages are really null and void at this point,” said shooting guard Danny Green. “We need him attacking. Being aggressive. Getting downhill on the pick-and-roll. It takes a lot of pressure off other guys, like Kawhi; you can’t double as much when K-Lo’s aggressive. It opens up the floor for me and Pascal [Siakam].
"Those little things he does -- taking charges, getting steals, boxing people out, drawing fouls on offense, winning 50-50 balls -- those little things are huge at playoff time. He’s been a big plus for us, regardless of what his numbers are for shooting percentage or what he ends up with in the box score for points.”
Indeed, the shooting stats overshadow Lowry’s all-around performance. He’s averaging 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds, areas that have steadily increased as he has evolved into more of a true point guard the past two seasons, shooting less but winning more.
Still, Lowry isn’t pleased with his production against the Sixers.
“I feel like I haven’t played to my maximum capacity," said Lowry, whose only minus rating came in Game 3. “That was the only game I just didn’t do enough. I wasn’t aggressive at all. I felt I could have done more defensively. Sometimes you get caught up in everything that’s going on and you just don’t get into the flow.”
On Sunday, Lowry got into the flow, but he still got caught up in pretty much everything.
And he won, like a good villain so often will do.