This terrible, horrible, no good, very bad road trip isn’t quite done but with the closer-than-it-should’ve-been 123-115 loss to the Clippers at least the worst of it is behind the Toronto Raptors. It’s inevitable that they’re going to have a stretch like this in the schedule somewhere and it seems much better to get it out of the way early than have to deal with it late in the season, when seeding is a more imminent concern and the mileage on the players is starting to take a toll. That stretch in November can yield some entertaining losses at worst, in March or April we could have been looking at something much uglier.
The Raptors were good enough to make a game of it but not quite good enough to take it, which seems to be the recurring theme of the season so far against elite teams(and, for some reason, the Kings) and it followed the general pattern that these kinds of games have always followed under coach Dwane Casey. The Raptors started out sloppy, shooting a dismal 39% from the floor and committing five 1st quarter turnovers. It looked like the game should have been getting away from them early but they were helped by the Clippers playing down to their competition on the offensive end – they weren’t really pressing any of their big advantages, content to wait for things to fall apart for Toronto. The Clippers weren’t firing on all cylinders but the gameplan was immediately apparent, at least on the defensive end: stick a long defender on DeRozan and pressure the guards with shakey handles to use up clock. This clearly worked, as the Raptors struggled to produce any sort of consistent offense.
The second quarter featured a more methodical Clippers attack, as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin began their dissection of the Raptors defense. The chief beneficiary in this quarter was Luc Richard Mbah Moute, who was gifted two wide open threes as the Raptors struggled to contain the Clippers multi-faceted attack. Giving up those threes shouldn’t be considered a failure on their part – generally speaking open threes are less than ideal but when your other options are Jordan diving, Paul off the dribble, Griffin popping into open space and Redick spacing in the other corner the LRMM corner three looks pretty good. He just happened to make two of them against the Raptors tonight. This was when the gap between the teams was most readily apparent. The Raptors matched the Clippers for brief stretches when their intensity hit a fever pitch or when DeRozan or Lowry were making some ridiculous shots but the Clippers were easily able to outpace the Raptors before that urgency set in for them.
The second half is when things got really interesting, as the “Clippers pull away, Raptors claw their way back into it” ebb and flow was established. The Clippers began to dominate the interior, with Griffin and Jordan combining for 22 points on 7-8 shooting and pulling down 8 rebounds in the quarter. The Raptors would counter this by going super small, with Norman Powell taking on the role of power guard as the Raptors used a bit of speed and shooting to catch the Clippers off balance. It worked for a time but the Clippers countered with a renewed commitment to using their size and the Raptors never really had a response to that because Siakam isn’t ready yet and Patterson can’t play a full 48.
As we will likely see in a lot of games against elite teams this year the Raptors kept it close by virtue of huge offensive stretches from DeRozan – who scored 13 in the the 3rd quarter – and Lowry – who scored 14 in the 4th quarter. They both did enough to keep it close for stretches but neither had it going when the other did and one man is just not enough to beat this Clippers team. They’re a legit juggernaut, a true candidate for the best team in the league.
The stretch run of this game really highlighted one of the biggest differences between these two teams: the Raptors don’t have a lineup they can play for heavy minutes that can both shoot and defend. If they go with their best defenders they have a minimum of two non-shooters on the floor and are unable to find minutes for one of their offensive workhorses. If they go with their best offensive players they’re forced to play guys who are inconsistent at best on the defensive end. The Clippers don’t need to worry about that; their incomplete lineups exist to give the members of their best lineup rest so they’ll be ready to close out games. When they need to have their best players on the floor they can trot out a lineup that is almost unguardable while still playing stingy defense. This is something consistent of all of the truly elite teams in the league but continues to elude the Raptors.
With the worst of this trip over the Raptors will enjoy a well-deserved day of rest and then head to Houston to take on the Rockets, then close out the road trip in Milwaukee on Friday.
That #$#% I Like
- Valanciunas adding some finesse to his game is definitely a good thing overall but sometimes he seems to forget about his brute force advantage. It was nice to see the classic “shoulder into the defenders chest” from JV tonight against Jordan. These long, bouncy defenders are less effective in one on one scenarios when they get bumped off balance.
- Casey trying out some unconventional lineups to get Norm some minutes was nice to see. He’s too good to sit and Siakam isn’t quite good enough to play all the time so this is absolutely necessary.
- The roadtrip as a whole has been a struggle but Lowry has performed well throughout. He’s still the best player on the team and they’ll only go as far as he can take them. On some level we all knew his early season struggles were temporary but it’s still a relief to see him performing to his usual standards again.
- Speaking of early season struggles Patrick Patterson had his best game of the year and has hit 6-12 threes over the last two games. It looks like he bottomed out with that 1 point in 30 minutes performance against the Nuggets.
That %[email protected]% I Don’t Like
- The Raptors still struggle with prioritizing shooters on defense and we’ve had a couple of egregious examples in the last 2 games. Against the Kings we saw Ty Lawson catch the ball above the break wide open for three and get closed on by a Raptor defender who left Garrett Temple, a much better outside shooter, wide open in the near corner. Tonight one of the worst examples was DeRozan picking up LRMM in the corner in transition, which seems good until you see JJ Redick 20 feet away above the break launching an open three. Good defensive teams know who they want shooting in those situations and rotate accordingly.
- I feel like this should have been the first game in the back to back and the Kings game should have been second. If you’re going to screw a team like this at least make the game against the better teams the more winnable ones.