TORONTO - With seven seconds remaining, the game all but wrapped up and moments after draining the biggest shot of the night, Kyle Lowry stepped to the line.
As he recorded his 23rd and 24th points of the evening, a segment of the sellout Air Canada Centre crowd expressed their appreciation for the Raptors' point guard with a smattering of MVP chants.
Even Lowry, in the midst of a career and possible All-Star year, laughed it off.
"If I win the MVP you'll see pigs fly," he joked after leading his team to a bounce-back 94-89 victory over the Timberwolves Friday.
Lowry connected on a season-best six three-point shots, none bigger than the one he hit from the corner with just under 15 seconds left to give the Raptors a seven-point lead and put the Wolves' comeback hopes to rest.
He won't be lifting an MVP trophy anytime soon - though he did ascend to 10th on NBA.com's "Race to the MVP Ladder" this week - but he is well on his way to representing the Raptors in New Orleans for next month's All-Star Game.
In nine games this month, the eighth-year vet is averaging 17.8 points and 8.0 assists while shooting a remarkable 52 per cent from long range.
"He's playing at a high level," Dwane Casey said. "This is the highest level he's played, the best I think he's played. I don't think he'd tell you that."
Casey was right, he wouldn't. "I feel good," Lowry responded, asked if he's playing his best basketball, also citing a productive half-season stretch he had with the Rockets in 2011-12.
"He's a tough competitor, plays hard all the time," said Rick Adelman, current Wolves bench boss and Lowry's former coach in Houston. "He's jumped around to different situations but he was really good for us in Houston and it looks like he's playing that way now."
Adelman, who Lowry called his favourite coach, gave the Philadelphia-native his first shot to start and play big minutes in the NBA. In Lowry's final season as a Rocket - with Kevin McHale replacing Adelman on Houston's bench - he appeared to be on the verge of a breakout. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.6 assists prior to the All-Star break and before a mysterious bacterial infection derailed the rest of his season. The Wolves' coach said he never had a doubt that Lowry would get back to and even eclipse that level but still, many questioned whether he could be a positive leader at the point guard position.
"He's grown into that role of being a leader, he's matured as a man," Casey said. "He's doing all the right things and those were the only question marks with Kyle as far as the other coaches are concerned."
Lowry credits his personal success to his off-court growth as well as the work he put in during this past offseason.
"I'm just growing up," the 27-year-old said. "I've got a son, a wife, a family, it's one of those things where you just hit that moment and it's just like, you've got to grow up sometime. This summer was a big summer for me. I got a chance to really work as hard as I wanted to and I got a chance to relax my mind and clear it and it seems to be working."
With Rudy Gay - his best friend - in Sacramento, Lowry has finally found a balance between utilizing his ability as a scorer and facilitating a productive offence, also excelling on defence and leading the NBA in charges taken (he drew his 24th early in Friday's game). But more than anything else, it's his leadership that continues to turn heads, rightfully so.
"I didn't do nothing," Lowry said, asked about the team's performance against Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, one of the toughest frontcourt duos in the league. "The big fellas did a great job tonight, they redeemed themselves. JV, Amir, Chuck, Patt, those guys played huge tonight and all I can do is treat them to lunch one of these days on the road."
Lowry, like the rest of the team, recognized the importance of this game following one of their most disappointing efforts of the season in Boston on Wednesday.
"We definitely wanted to redeem ourselves after that Boston game," said Amir Johnson, who added 19 points and held Love to 16 on 7-of-19 shooting. "We made it a goal to get stops, get every rebound and we did that tonight."
The Raptors allowed an opponent season-high 19 offensive boards in Boston and appeared to be headed for another long night against the one of the NBA's topped ranked rebounding teams. Minnesota grabbed 10 off the offensive glass in the first half but was held to just two the rest of the way as Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas battled Love and Pekovic, keeping them both in check.
"We had a bounce-back as a team from the other night," Casey said. We were disappointed that we were ambushed in Boston."
"[It was] just a bounce back game for us and we needed it," Lowry echoed. "Tonight we did a great job of bouncing back against a team that's really good, I mean they're a talented team, well coached. We did a good job of executing our game plan, they made it close but we pulled it out."