By Ian Harrison
TORONTO — After two bad games in Cleveland, Kyle Lowry isn’t lacking confidence as the Eastern Conference finals shift to Toronto.
Still, if Toronto’s All-Star guard doesn’t step up soon, the Raptors look likely to become the latest victim of a Cleveland sweep.
Lowry made just eight of 28 shots, going 1 of 15 from long range, in Games 1 and 2 at Cleveland. Both were blowout wins for the Cavaliers and they started the postseason 10-0, two shy of San Antonio’s NBA record set in 1999.
Now, Lowry is hoping a return home will help Toronto against LeBron James and the surging Cavs.
“I think we’ll be better at home,” Lowry said practice Friday. “We’re supposed to be better at home. We’re down 2-0, but we haven’t played on our home floor yet.”
Toronto is 6-2 at home in the playoffs, after going 32-9 at Air Canada Centre in the regular season.
“We’ve got to go out tomorrow night and hold down our fort,” DeMar DeRozan said.
Whether at home or on the road, handling James and Cavaliers is hard enough. Without an effective Lowry, Toronto faces even longer odds of stealing a win in the series.
“It’s always important to have your top player but, again, we’ve been here before,” coach Dwane Casey said. “There’s nights he hasn’t played well.”
Lowry has certainly had an up-and-down postseason. He scored 96 points over the final three games against Miami, but has seven games with 10 or more attempts where his shooting percentage was below .300. The only player to do that more often in a playoff season is Hedo Tukoglu with eight for Orlando in 2009.
“They’ve done a good job of collapsing and getting the ball out of my hands,” Lowry said about Cleveland’s efforts to contain him. “I’m making the right passes, we just haven’t made shots. I think we’ll make shots tomorrow. It looks a lot different when we make shots. Assists go up and turnovers go down.”
Why so confident after two big defeats already?
“We have no reason not to be confident,” Lowry said. “We have to be. We got here for a reason. It wasn’t by luck. We had to beat two teams, we had to play a regular season. We got here for a reason.”
Toronto’s Game 2 loss marked the first time since March 23 and 25 that the Raptors had lost back-to-back games. They haven’t lost three straight since November 15-18, a slump that matched their longest of the season.
Lowry attracted some unwanted attention in Game 2 for heading to the locker room late in the second quarter, right around the time Cleveland was turning a tie game into a 14-point halftime lead. Coach Dwane Casey played down any suggestion that Lowry had abandoned the bench.
“Kyle did not walk out on his team,” Casey said. “He and Cory Joseph use the bathroom more than any two human beings that I know during the game.”
Willing to give Lowry a break on using the bathroom, Casey wouldn’t give himself one for his lineup decisions during Cleveland’s game-changing spurt.
“What I’ve got to do a better job of is finding the group to play with Channing Frye at the 5 and LeBron James at the 4,” Casey said. “I have not done a good job of matching that group.”
After Game 2, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving called it “vital” for the Cavs to keep playing at their preferred pace on the road.
“We want the Raptors to play our style of play, whether that be in the half court, hard screens, being physical offensively and defensively,” Irving said.” When we’re getting our run in, it starts with our defense, and myself or ‘Bron are pushing on the break.”
While the venue will change Saturday, Toronto’s injury situation won’t. Casey said center Jonas Valanciunas, who sprained his right ankle in Game 3 against Miami, is “doubtful” to return.
“It’s wishful thinking,” Casey said. “I don’t foresee him tomorrow night and after that we’ll just have to wait and see. He’s on the court. It’s coming along. But we’re not going to rush him back.”
The way Cleveland is rolling right now, nothing short of a rush will be soon enough.