MINNEAPOLIS - Less than 15 minutes after the final buzzer sounded, Kyle Lowry, originally surprised to learn he had recorded his fifth career triple-double and second of the season, lamented his recent shooting slump.
"Lately my shot has been off," said Lowry, fresh off a 20-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance in the Raptors' 111-104 victory over the Timberwolves. "I've been in a crazy slump for me. I'mma find my way out of it."
Demanding the best from himself and his team has become the norm for a player that led Toronto in more ways than one on Sunday.
Lowry shot just 5-of-13 from the field but it didn't seem to matter much because he did almost everything else. The Raptors' point guard knocked down nine of his 10 free throws, netted a couple of steals, found teammates for big shots throughout the evening and helped change the game with his rebounding.
As a team, it was their hot shooting that kept the Raptors afloat in the first half, even leading by one at intermission. However, that lead seemed unsustainable at the rate in which Minnesota dominated the trenches.
Late in the third quarter, as Lowry wrestled the ball from Nikola Pekovic - a ferocious rebounder with 80 pounds and nearly a foot on the Raptors' guard - to give his team another possession, it was clear the momentum had swung.
"He did a good job of getting in there, penetrating, finding people," Dwane Casey said of Lowry. "We needed all of his rebounds, especially with the way they crash the boards. He just had an all-around game."
After giving up 10 offensive rebounds in the first half - it was the 12th time they've surrendered at least 10 offensive boards in the last 17 games - the Raptors allowed just six in the seconds half, doubling Minnesota's efforts on the boards, 28-14. Lowry, who had nine rebounds in the final 24 minutes, and his nose for the ball seemed to rub off and inspire his teammates.
"It's crazy," DeMar DeRozan said of Lowry's effort. "We all look at one another and realize, what can I do to help him out?"
"Just seeing him going there, sometimes he comes out of nowhere and you see him snatch a ball out of a bigs hand, or coming over the top like he has a 42-inch vertical or something. That's just Kyle, man. He's hungry for the ball every time the ball goes up."
His passion, like his tenacity, has been contagious and his backcourt partner appears to have caught the bug.
With just over a minute to go and the shot clock ticking down, up seven, DeRozan took a pass from Lowry. Situated in the left corner, with the Wolves' Corey Brewer in his face, he drained the dagger, a three-pointer to put the Raptors up 10. On his way to the Raptors' huddle, Minnesota having just called a timeout, a fired-up DeRozan turned to the Wolves' bench and shouted a couple of R-rated words that did not sit well with coach Rick Adelman.
"They got a little hyped when they made a couple of buckets," said DeRozan, who finished with 25 points. "I kind of got it from Greivis (Vasquez). When he hits a big shot, he always shows off a little bit. It's the competitive level that's in all of us when you hit a big shot."
"I like the passion," Casey added. "I think all of our guys are playing with passion, we have to channel it and get it going in the right direction, at the other team. I do like that."
It was a rare showing of on-court emotion for the quiet all-star guard but something we've seen a lot more of over the last few weeks. Lowry, who is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve, approves.
"When you're an all-star, you're growing up, your true self starts to come out a little bit," he said of his teammate. "He's a quiet guy but when you're winning and you're a leader, you've got to do it."
Listed at a generous 6-feet, Lowry is averaging just under five rebounds per game, good for fourth among NBA point guards, behind only Russell Westbrook, Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo.
Lowry is shooting just 32 per cent from the field, 29 per cent from three-point range - down from 39 per cent on the season - over his last eight games. It's barely affected his overall value to the team and it certainly hasn't hurt the bottom line. Toronto has won six of those eight games and nine of its last 11 contests, surpassing last season's win total with its 35th victory on Sunday.
Without sixth-man Patrick Patterson in the lineup - the Raptors learned he will miss at least 7-10 days with a ligament injury in his right elbow before the game - Steve Novak and Chuck Hayes stepped in and filled that role seamlessly. Hayes' strength and on-the-ball defence came in handy against all-star forward Kevin Love - who just missed out on a triple-double, with 26 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists - and Novak knocked down five of his six shots from beyond the arch, contributing 15 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
As a team, the Raptors shot 14-of-24 from long distance, with Terrence Ross hitting three of four attempts and DeRozan, as well as Vasquez each drilling a couple threes.
The victory was Toronto's 18th in its previous 19 meetings with the Wolves, sweeping the season-series for the eighth time in the last 10 years. Now nine games above the .500 mark for the first time this season, the Raptors will travel to Brooklyn to face the Nets - who sit four games back for top spot in the Atlantic Division - in the second night of a back-to-back, for both teams, on Monday.