“I just remember him always being there, always something happening,” Lonnie Lowry said. “Just always being tough. He was scrappy, and he didn’t back down. So if somebody did something ...”
Kyle Lowry, the smallest boy in those neighborhood rivalries, would fight back — and his big brother often had to jump in and end the skirmish with a left-right combo.
But during these Eastern Conference playoffs, the five-time NBA all-star point guard for the Toronto Raptors has been punchless. He has shot worse and averaged nearly three fewer points than he did in the regular season. This season, Lowry, 33, took a step back while Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors, and his background role only intensified in Game 3 against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. In his first playoff game in his hometown, Lowry passed up shots, and the ones he did take he couldn’t make, finishing 2 for 10. While Lowry was on the floor, the Raptors were outscored by 28 points on their way to a 116-95 loss.
“Ah, man, super tough. Super tough. [He’s] struggling, not being able to make shots,” Lonnie Lowry said of watching the game from a Wells Fargo Center suite filled with family. “This has a little more importance because it’s the Sixers and he’s playing at home. I think it definitely means more.”
Across social media, a familiar derision popped up: “Playoff Kyle” — the streaky version of Lowry that disappears in April and May. But ahead of Sunday’s Game 4, with the Raptors trailing 2-1 in the semifinal series, those who know Lowry best expect another identity to emerge: “North Philly Kyle.”
Well, not too much North Philly.
“You don’t want to see him. He last was seen my freshman year [at Villanova] in this building against Kansas,” Lowry said Saturday, laughing about the nickname.
“He’s not the most pleasant,” Lowry joked.
But the kid from North Philly is a grinder.
As Lowry came into his own — no longer the eighth man in Lonnie’s games — he grew into a workout fanatic. He bothered a coach one Christmas Day to unlock the gym. While most of his peers would enjoy half days at Cardinal Dougherty High School, Lowry would catch a bus, then a train to drop buckets of sweat at Temple University. After one of those 90-minute workouts, Kyle Sample, a friend and teammate, thought they would take a short stroll back to the Cecil B. Moore subway stop and head home. But Lowry turned the other direction for the 2 1/2-mile walk back to his neighborhood.
“That was the coolest part, seeing after he bust his butt for an hour and a half that he wasn’t done,” said Sample, now the assistant director of Lowry’s K-Low Elite AAU program. “He was always thinking about getting an extra edge on the competition.”
This postseason, Lowry’s edge hasn’t always been evident in the box score. Through eight playoff games, he leads the league in loose balls recovered (23) and charges drawn (nine). Still, he has often deferred to Leonard and Pascal Siakam.
Throughout their year of Kawhi, as the Raptors have managed Leonard’s load and fretted about this summer, when he can bolt in free agency, Lowry has tried to find the tricky balance of facilitating and finding his own offensive flow.
"This has been a very tough year,” Lonnie Lowry said. “He’s just been trying to find himself. And I’m just hoping he can find it. [Sunday] they need it even worst now.”
On Saturday, the Raptors said Siakam, who has averaged 22.9 points and 7.4 rebounds this postseason, is doubtful for Game 4 with a right calf contusion. When Lonnie Lowry heard the news, he sighed — probably right along with every Raptors fan on the other side of the border — and then his mind shifted to his brother.
“He now knows he’s got to have a big game, because they can’t go down 3-1,” he said. “If they go down 3-1, you can cancel Christmas.”
The Raptors don’t need Lowry to throw a left-handed punch to the gut of an opponent — as he did as a Villanova freshman against the top-ranked Jayhawks. Still, North Philly Kyle needs to reappear, get into a scoring rhythm and recognize that sometimes making the right play isn’t the best play.
“I’m going to be a little bit more aggressive, though. Might take some shots I haven’t taken in about a year and half,” he said. “Not forcing them, but take some shots that may be a little bit tougher than they usually are. But I’m going to play, and that was going to be the mind-set whether Pascal played or not."
The Raptors could use Lonnie Lowry’s little brother, and the city still means “everything” to the all-star who once was a kid from North Philadelphia.
“Life. Philadelphia in general is life," Lowry said. “It’s what has gotten me to this point. It’s got me to be able to take everything negative, every tough, every bad situation, and turn it into a positive.”