Kyle Lowry is finding out what T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack and Jerryd Bayless discovered: Jose Calderon does not go quietly. But this time it's different, because Calderon is in an expiring contract and the Toronto Raptors spent a princely sum of future parts to bring Lowry on board.
This time, it's worth watching the reaction of the would-be replacement.
So as this Third Act of the 2012-2013 NBA season winds on – Act One was that 4-19 start on a road-heavy schedule; Act 2 was a hopeful fi ve-game winning streak en route to an 8-2 run; the current act is a testing schedule that still has games against the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat after Wednesday's 107-105 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls at the Air Canada Centre – it is worth noting what Lowry has managed in the last two games, albeit in losing efforts.
Lowry scored 26 points off the bench and had seven assists in a game in which Calderon was 1-for-5 in the first quarter. Tuesday, on the road against a team that has had overwhelming success at home against Eastern Conference opponents, Lowry poured in 19 fourth-quarter points in a 113-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
These things are cyclical, of course.
Lowry was the coolest kid on the court early in the season, playing with a swagger that has often been lacking in these parts. Some of us had Calderon's bags packed for him. Some dubbed him The Man Who Will Save Us From Jose. But Calderon did what he always does – nose to the grindstone, put up the best assists-per-turnover ratio in the NBA - and while he was still defensively suspect against better athletic guards, suddenly the Feb. 21 trade deadline didn't need to come right away.
Lowry, meanwhile, missed six games with a bruised foot and seven more with a partially torn right triceps and when he returned was a man without a country, seemingly uncomfortable and coming apart late in games.
Evidence is still being accumulated. The Raptors had their chances in overtime but were twice done in by suspect decision-making from Lowry – first on a prayerful three-point attempt, and again when he twisted to look for a pass despite having a free lane to the bucket.
Yet it was Lowry, flipping up a shot off a pass from Calderon that seemed destined to set up a second overtime until Landry Fields lost Luol Deng for what would be the winning shot, standing up to a three-pointer from Calderon that hit the rim and bounced harmlessly away with one tick left on the clock.
This was a game that seemed to find Lowry, who was hacked by Nate Robinson on a three-point shot that was verified by video replay with under two minutes left, then after missing his first of three free throws drained the next two to pull the Raptors to within two at 99-97.
Lowry dropped in a layup around Joakim Noah with 53.8 seconds left to pull the Raptors to within one at 100-99, then missed on a desperate and ill-conceived jump shot with 15 seconds left but Amir Johnson grabbed the rebound and made one of two shots from the charity-stripe after being fouled, tying the game at 100-100.
"He had it going down the stretch," Casey said admiringly of Lowry, suggesting that his point-guard did a better job of decision-making then he was getting credit for – a good sign for Lowry, since every point-guard needs his coach to have his back.
It was a frenetic game, including a technical foul on Casey delivered with an obnoxious "Bang, right there!" exclamation from referee Kane Fitzgerald, as he pointed to the coach.
The Raptors received little in the way of love from this crew. Johnson was fouled with one second left, but he was ruled to have been in the act of passing the ball. Instead of free throws, the Raptors had to in-bounds the ball, leading to Calderon's speculative heave. It was NBA creative officiating at its finest, and Casey said after the game that
"I hope the league looks at that play. I hope they watch it," rightly terming it a marginal decision. Johnson slumped deep in his locker afterward and shrugged when he was asked about the play, which brought back memories of a non-call earlier this year on a shot by Andrea Bargnani in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
"They said they thought it was a pass, pretty much," Johnson said. "And there was pretty much nobody else to pass to. I thought it was a shooting foul."
And so Act Three goes on. In the Raptors perfect world (insert joke here) Lowry assumes the point-guard's job right now and Calderon gets to play out his departure, possibly to a playoff team, with grace.
There is a sense that the battle has been rejoined: Lowry sprained his ankle in the second quarter Tuesday before coming back with a fourth-quarter burst, and perhaps not coincidentally Calderon suited up Wednesday despite injuring his hip against the Nets. This is how it needs to be for Lowry: continued growth and better decision-making forged out of a season-long fight to put his imprint on the team, against a redoubtable foe. This is how it ought to be for Jose Calderon, too. This is how he deserves his Toronto tenure to end.