TORONTO — Kyle Lowry had never been to an NBA Finals game.
This was the deal he made with himself: He wasn’t going to see the NBA’s biggest stage until he earned the right to be there as a player. So he never made a trip to see his peers play for the title that he has coveted for 13 years.
That’s why on Thursday night, the Toronto point guard took a little look around at what he’s been missing.
“It was pretty cool,” Lowry said. “It was pretty good.”
And it was most definitely worth the wait.
Lowry has now been to the NBA Finals — and knows what winning a game in the title series is like, too. The longest-tenured Raptors player had a solid stat line — seven points, six rebounds and nine assists — as Toronto topped Golden State 118-109 in Game 1 of the title series, ending the Warriors’ streak of 12 straight opening-game-of-a-series victories.
“I think that one of the best things about this team is that you don’t have to put a burden of 20 to 25 points on him,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Because he’s going to defend, he’s going to lead the team, he’s going to make those tough plays. He just instinctually does that game after game after game.”
Often a lightning rod for criticism in Toronto’s past playoff flameouts, Lowry has quarterbacked brilliantly in these playoffs.
He did it again Thursday.
He set the tempo in Game 1 by, time and again, utilizing long touch passes to start fast breaks. He also set the tone on defensive end, chasing Stephen Curry around and tirelessly battling much bigger players, as usual.
Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins is 6-foot-11 and perhaps generously listed at 270 pounds; Lowry is listed at 6-foot-1, 196 pounds.
So when Cousins came barreling at Lowry on a switch with about 8½ minutes left in the game, Lowry never moved. He took the charge. He took the hit. The Warriors came up empty on a possession with the outcome still very much in the balance.
“Just win,” said Lowry, who took three charges in the finals opener. “That’s all I care about. The numbers, the stats, all that stuff, it doesn’t matter to me. Team wins is all that really, really matters to me. Whatever it takes to win games.”
Getting to this stage probably seemed unlikely 10 months ago. Lowry was deeply stung by the Raptors’ decision to trade his longtime backcourt partner in DeMar DeRozan and take the risk of acquiring Kawhi Leonard — someone who played in only nine games last season, and someone who at the time pretty clearly didn’t want to be in Toronto.
Lowry was angry. It took months to mend the fences with Raptors’ management. But everything to this point has worked perfectly, and he’s now three wins away from a championship.
“We know we have our great fans, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be about us in this locker room,” Lowry said.
Lowry said he dreamed countless times of what the finals stage would be like, but as the 9 p.m. tip-off neared Thursday, he tried to keep some semblance of a regular routine.
He knew it wasn’t going to be just another game, but also knew he couldn’t psych himself out before it arrived.
“It was a normal day for me. I’ve got kids,” Lowry said. ”... You go out there, the crowd was really antsy and loud and that’s when you start to feel it. But throughout the day, you kind of keep yourself very calm and collected and understand that it’s a big game — but you’ve got to be ready to go play.”
He was ready. All the Raptors were ready. They know they’ll have to be better in Game 2, since adjustments by the two-time defending champion Warriors are inevitable. That’s what Friday’s task will be, what Saturday’s task will be. After finally seeing what the finals are like, Lowry looked at a clock on the wall shortly after midnight and decided it was time to head home.
“I’m hungry as hell right now,” Lowry said.
The quest for the other thing he’s been hungry for — a championship ring — resumes Sunday in Game 2.