MIAMI - With self-preservation topping the Raptors' list of late-season priorities, the player they can least afford to lose left American Airlines Arena on a cart.
Walking with a noticeable limp, Kyle Lowry boarded the team bus following a 93-83 loss to the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
The result of the game was of little importance. Now it was secondary, as the status of Lowry - and with him, Toronto's remarkable season - hung in the balance.
"We'll just have to wait and see how he is tomorrow," head coach Dwane Casey said after Lowry was pulled from Monday's loss with a sore left knee.
Lowry sustained the injury with roughly three minutes remaining in the first half, colliding knee-on-knee with LeBron James, just about the last person on the planet you'd want to plow into at high speed.
Naturally, the Raptors point guard was slow to collect his bearings, but true to character, he got back up and remained in the game until, eventually, his body betrayed him.
"We pulled him out," Casey said. "He couldn't go."
Lowry finished the half and started and played most of the third quarter before leaving for the locker room and calling it a night, whether he liked it or not. The knee had swelled and he could barely walk.
"We substituted him for Greivis (Vasquez) at that time," Casey continued, "and he's limping, limping, limping. [The medical staff] looked at him and decided he couldn't go back in."
X-rays were negative, per Casey, but the status of Toronto's most indispensable plater remains up in the air.
It's not the first time Lowry has given his team a scare. Most recently, he was pulled in the first half of Friday's win over the Boston Celtics after turning his ankle, but he would re-enter and finish the game. It's inevitable given the way in which he plays.
"He does this all the time, so he'll be fine," said teammate Terrence Ross. "Kyle, he's a tough guy. He always comes through. No matter what, he's going to find a way to get back on the court."
"With Kyle, no matter what his injury is, no matter what type of feeling he's having or what his body is telling him he can't do, his mind and his heart pushes through," echoed Patrick Patterson, who returned from a 13-game absence of his own. "So no matter what the circumstances are with him, unless it's something real serious - knock on wood - then he'll play. That's the type of mentality he has. That's the type of mentality he brings to the team and it rubs off on all of us."
Could the Raptors shut Lowry down? Depending on how his knee reacts to a night of swelling and a flight back home, they may not have a choice, at least for a game or two. Again, they'll have to balance the importance of self-preservation and finishing out the season strong. There's still work to be done with seeding in the Eastern Conference playoff hierarchy at stake.
"His body will tell us, he will tell us [and] the medical people will tell us if he can go," said Casey, his team now sharing the third seed with Chicago. "We're not in the position to totally just shut him down. I think we've got to be smart with it. We'll see where it is."
LeBron carries undermanned Heat
Without one-third of Miami's Big Three, as Dwyane Wade sat out resting a sore hamstring, James put the Heat on his shoulders.
The reigning MVP began the second quarter sitting on Miami's bench, because even the league's most physically intimidating specimen needs a breather every now and then. As James sat, Toronto quickly turned a one-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
Overall, the Raptors outscored Miami by 12 points in the nine minutes that James spent on the bench Monday evening.
However, the league's best player dominated when he was on the floor, spearheading a 22-9 run to end the first half and putting the game away late in the fourth.
Patterson played eight minutes in his return from an elbow sprain that kept him out of Toronto's previous 13 contests. Sporting a protective brace on his right elbow, the Raptors' forward was understandably rusty but made an impact with his energy and versatility off the bench, something Toronto had missed in his absence.
Casey had planned to limit Patterson's minutes in his first game back and could continue to do so until he finds his rhythm.
"It's just all about getting used to the brace," said Patterson, who scored his lone field goal on a put-back in the first quarter. "I thought I was a tad bit slow out there, just getting used to the brace as far as my jump shot goes."
"It's going to take a little bit more time to get used to, but hopefully in these next three or four games I'll be back to top shape."
The Raptors set a new season-low, making just five free throws against the Heat. James, alone, got to the line (11 times) more than Toronto (10).
"First of all, we really didn't have the legs like that coming from a tough game last night," said DeMar DeRozan, who scored 16 points after tallying 28 in Sunday's win over Orlando. "We got to stop letting teams get easy points in the paint. That's what is hurting us."