Kyle Lowry takes charge on defense

Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer
Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer

Delivering a punchline is essential for comedians.

Similarly, the willingness to take a charge is vital for successful defenders in basketball.

It takes physical toughness and mental toughness to plant your feet and absorb a collision with an offensive player.

Toronto Raptors veteran guard Kyle Lowry is a master at putting himself in position to take a charge.

He’s a gusty, smart defender. Above all, he’s a team player, and also makes steady contributions in other areas of the game (career numbers: 14.4 points and 6.1 assists in 856 regular-season games)

He shows that again and again by taking charges, including twice in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night in Toronto.

Golden State’s Draymond Green ran into Lowry in the first half. And in the fourth quarter, he stood his ground near the baseline as DeMarcus Cousins knocked him down.

The championship series resumes on Sunday.

One of the best

According to NBA.com, Lowry, who entered the league in 2006, is No. 2 in charges drawn (0.79 per game) this postseason. He only trails Oklahoma City’s Paul George (1.0 per game), who appeared in five playoff contests this year.

In short, Lowry takes away about one possession per game from his foe. He does it by sacrificing his body.

Chris Herring explored this topic last year, and in his interesting report, former Raptors backup Delon Wright discussed Lowry’s take-charge approach on defense:

“It just feels like he always takes them at the right moment, when the other team has some momentum going. He steps in there and gets the call, and it’s kind of defeating for the other team.”

An appreciation for Lowry’s impact

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse elaborated on the subject to offer a broader perspective.

“His instincts are unbelievable,” Nurse was quoted as saying by the website. “He sees that stuff coming way ahead of time and gets himself in position. That’s just being a super smart, high-IQ player. He’s pretty good at knowing how to take them. Every now and then, he takes a pretty crushing blow. But you know how it is: The good (charge-takers) kind of start to fall just before they take a hit, and hopefully don’t get hurt on those (sorts of plays). But his instincts to play hard amaze me almost nightly.”

In summing up his play, Lowry broke it down this way, according Herring’s report:

“I can’t normally block a shot, and I can’t energize my team with a crazy dunk. But I can take a charge at a big moment in a game, and I think my teammates appreciate me laying myself out there. That’s my energizing play.”

While other players shy away from contact, Lowry is like a baseball batter who endures hit by pitch after hit by pitch.

By early November 2018, Lowry’s 49 charges were tops in the league since the 2017-18 season tipped off, according to fivethirtyeight.com. He played in 65 regular-season games this season and didn’t finish first in that category.

Ersan Ilyasova of the Milwaukee Bucks topped the chart at 0.75 per game; Lowry finished at 0.35.

But before the end of the NBA Finals, expect Lowry to keep demonstrating the art and science of this undervalued facet of the game.

Indeed, he’ll take charge on defense — doing so by taking a charge or two, maybe more.