-- TORONTO -- Kyle Lowry was on his back when the buzzer sounded. In the middle of the lane, the Toronto Raptors point guard put his hands over his face, his potentially series-winning shot blocked by Paul Pierce. DeMar DeRozan, Lowry's co-star throughout Toronto's most successful season in over a decade, came over to console him. The Raptors had lost Game 7 to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday 104-103, and instead of a continuing their surprising season, they will have a few months to meditate on this moment.
"I just told him, 'Don't worry about it,'" DeRozan said. "I can sleep at night knowing he took that shot. I can live with it, Kyle taking that shot. 'Don't be down on yourself,' that's all I was telling him. Just being there to support him. I told him without him we wouldn't even be in this situation."
It couldn't have been any closer. The series went down to the final possession of the deciding game, and Toronto put the ball in the hands of its best player. Over the course of 11 meetings with Brooklyn, including four regular-season games, both teams had scored exactly 1,070 points.
In need of one last basket, the Raptors ran a pick-and-roll, and Brooklyn's Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett trapped Lowry. As he tried to turn the corner, Garnett slapped the ball out of his hands. Toronto forward Patrick Patterson, thinking Lowry wouldn't be able to get the ball back in a crowd of Nets, took a step forward, bringing Pierce with him.
If Garnett doesn't get the ball loose, or if Patterson doesn't take that step, the 6-0 Lowry likely has a layup or an easy pass to Patterson under the basket. Patterson tried to get out of the way, but it was too late. The ball bouncing precisely like that meant that the 6-7 Pierce could get a hand on it.
"Sometimes it's about being in the right place at the right time and I was there tonight," Pierce said.
Forty-five minutes after the final buzzer, Lowry sat at his locker, still in uniform. His jersey was untucked, his feet in flip-flops. Lowry's 2-year-old son, Karter, drew on the whiteboard with a Sharpie. Above his doodles were instructions to meet in the locker room for a players-only meeting the next morning.
Three minutes later, a Raptors staffer alerted Lowry that it was time to take questions. The point guard, who finished with 28 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, called out to his son to come with him.
"Karter, c'mon," Lowry said. It didn't have the desired effect, so he repeated it a few more times. "We're coming right back, I promise," he said, walking over and taking the Sharpie out of his son's hand before picking him up.
His son beside him at the podium, Lowry was asked what was going through his head in the locker room.
"What's not?" he said. "It's a lot of things that could have been done differently, but this season has been a great season. My teammates, I've had the best core group of teammates I've ever had in my life, in my career. It's just a lot. Mad, frustrated, but at the same time understanding that this is only a stepping stone for my growth."
Lowry expected to go further than this, a sentiment shared by others in the locker room. Despite the disappointment, though, there is plenty to build on. As long as Lowry re-signs as a free agent, this is one of the East's top teams coming off the best regular season in franchise history.
In December, the Raptors were reportedly close to being dismantled in order to get a high draft pick. In April, they were hopeful about meeting the Heat in the second round. It didn't happen, but Toronto's brief time in the spotlight showed a national audience the type of talent and fan support that exists north of the border.
To reach that final play, down by one with 6.2 seconds left, the Raptors overcame a disastrous second quarter in which the Nets scored 35 points on 12-for-18 shooting. They overcame Amir Johnson, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds and shot 9-for-12 from the field, fouling out after just 22 minutes. They overcame poor 3-point shooting, a slow start from DeRozan -- suffering from the flu, according to head coach Dwane Casey -- and a combined five points from Greivis Vasquez and Jonas Valanciunas, who were crucial earlier in the series.
"For us, all year long it's the same thing," Patterson said. "Our toughness, our ability to fight through criticism and all the naysayers ... to put ourselves in the position to win the game no matter what the deficit is, no matter what's going on, no matter who's hurt, who's injured, who's sick. We always put ourselves in a position to win the game."
When Lowry left the podium, he ran into the man who blocked his shot and ended his career season. "You're an animal, dog," Pierce said. "You're an animal." Lowry thanked him and told him he'd be watching Brooklyn in the second round.
DeRozan took his turn at the microphone 10 minutes later, and said the Raptors showed they'd fight until their last breaths. He added that they'll grow from the experience, and that this one series felt like two. Asked about Lowry's future, he said he wasn't worried about it.
"Why would he leave?" DeRozan said. "Just my opinion. That's how I look at it."