Taking a charge in the NBA can be an art form. Timing, speed, smarts, balance _ and, of course, fearlessness to stand in front of a barrelling opponent who might outweigh you by 100 pounds _ are required.
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry has it down to a science.
“He’s resilient and he’s not afraid to sacrifice his body for the team,” said former NBA star Jamaal Magloire, now a basketball development consultant with the Raptors. “He has a knack for it. He’s really good at getting there before the offence does to take that foul.”
Lowry is the runaway leader in the post-season with 16 charges drawn. Portland’s Damian Lillard is next with seven and Golden State’s Draymond Green has six.
Lowry was at it again over the first two games of the NBA Finals against the Warriors. He drew a charge against DeMarcus Cousins in a Game 1 win and did it against Klay Thompson in a Game 2 loss.
“He’s just a durable son of a gun,” said TSN broadcaster Leo Rautins, a Canadian Basketball Hall of Famer. “The guy doesn’t care if you’re seven feet tall or whatever. But I think the beauty of it is he’s so good at getting there early and anticipating the whole thing.”
Lowry’s effort on those plays gave the Raptors possession, added to his opponents’ foul totals and helped get the home crowd going at Scotiabank Arena.
However, it can be a risky move.
A defender has to try to establish his legal guarding position in the path of an offensive player before contact is made, essentially beating him to the spot before the start of an upward shooting motion.
“He sees it before anybody else,” Rautins said. “So when he slides in, he’s got plenty of time to prepare.”
Selling the contact for the officials also doesn’t hurt. They have a tough job as it is determining whether contact was marginal.
The risk comes if a referee calls a blocking foul. That can result in a three-point play and have the opposite effect.
“He knows the right moments when to do it,” said Warriors centre Damian Jones.
It also helps to have a scrappy work ethic. Lowry simply isn’t afraid to get into position and brace for contact no matter who has the ball on the other team.
That’s no easy task when a freight train like the six-foot-11 270-pound Cousins is coming in hard.
“It’s extremely tough because the worst thing you can do is if you’re scared of the contact and you start to turn your body and shy away from it, that’s when you pick up blocking fouls,” said Cleveland Cavaliers guard Nik Stauskas. “So the most important thing about drawing charges and playing defence is taking hits with your chest with your arms out.
“That’s difficult to do because you’re sacrificing your body on a lot of those (plays) but Kyle doesn’t mind doing that.”
The six-foot-one 196-pound Lowry, who has been nursing a thumb injury, doesn’t think about the potential body pain in the heat of the moment.
“It doesn’t run through my mind,” he said. “You pay for it later. At the moment, as long as you win the game, it’s all worth it. Whatever you have to do to win the basketball game, your body, just throw it out there and whatever happens, happens.
“Hopefully you just don’t get hurt _ you can get up and bounce back and go move on.”
The skill of drawing charges is part of Lowry’s impressive defensive skillset.
The five-time all-star leads the league in the post-season with 42 loose balls recovered. He also has 53 deflections, good for second behind Green’s 56.
“This is what people really don’t understand about Kyle _ he knows everything you’re running,” Rautins said. “He knows what your tendencies are and what his tendencies are. You can talk to him about any guy on that floor at any point in time and he knows what they’re doing.
“He’s calling out their plays. That’s how good he is. People never see that aspect of him.”
At the offensive end, Lowry averaged 14.2 points per game in the regular season but his numbers have been inconsistent in the playoffs.
He was held scoreless in the post-season opener against Orlando but responded in Game 2 of that series with 22 points.
Lowry was quiet in Game 1 against Golden State with seven points (2 for 9) and had 13 points (4 for 11) in Game 2 on Sunday night.
His aggressive style can also lead to more foul calls. Lowry has picked up at least five fouls in each of his last three games.
He fouled out in Game 3 of the East final against the Milwaukee Bucks and it happened again Sunday with 3:42 left in the fourth quarter. It can be a tough balancing act for the 13-year NBA veteran.
“He’s a great charge-taker,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “I know one of them was possibly a charge, block/charge and those are tough, they go each way. But maybe that sixth (foul), I didn’t really see it in the game. So in the backcourt, probably 80 feet or so from the basket, those are ones you’ve got to be careful, especially when you’ve got five.”
When Lowry is in form at the offensive end, he becomes one of the most valuable players on the court. The Raptors will also be counting on him to make things challenging when the Warriors drive to the basket.
“He’s not afraid of stepping in and taking contact from bigger, stronger players,” Stauskas said. “He’s shown time and time again that he’s able to move his feet very well and play with his hands up.
“You’ve got to give him credit for that.”