That was a relief. With the Toronto Raptors in the midst of some recent struggles, they dominated the Los Angeles Clippers from start to finish. Kyle Lowry got some rest for his bad back, and the starters got some rest as well; no Raptor played more than 26 minutes in the game.
Serge Ibaka took practically every shot for the Raptors in the first few minutes, but it was alright because the Clippers only attempted floaters on the other end. The Raptors defence consistently coaxed one of the worst shots out of their opponents, and when Toronto’s offence started giving touches to non-Ibakas, the Raptors easily took the lead.
Kawhi Leonard especially showed why the Clippers have stalked him all season. (PSA: there are healthier ways to show affection than stalking, Lawrence.) Even though he put up a relatively modest 15 points, he dominated in his few minutes. Leonard was too big and strong for Avery Bradley to handle on the block, and he displayed fantastic vision from the paint when he forced the defence to collapse. He only collected two few assists, but he was integral to hitting open bodies and keeping the ball moving. Leonard was seamlessly involved in the offence, and it was clearly a point of emphasis that his teammates don’t just stand and watch when Leonard handles.
Toronto dominated in the paint, as well. The Raptors had more than half as many offensive rebounds (16) as the Clippers had defensive rebounds (29). Ibaka was excellent after he stopped shooting everything, dominating in the paint on both ends. His 16 points and 13 rebounds represents his sixth straight double double, which is the longest of his career and longest since Chris Bosh in 2009.
The starters built up a lead in the brunt of the first, but sloppy offensive execution from the bench let the Clippers close the gap. That Toronto’s defence remained excellent, despite 7-foot-3 monster Boban Marjonovic’s presence in the game, meant the game was tied 23-23 after 12 minutes.
As was common last year, it was CJ Miles who lifted the bench to such great heights. He hit two straight triples to start the second quarter. With Fred Van Vleet playing alongside the starters, Delon Wright was asked to create more for his teammates, and he responded with one of the best games of his season, finishing with 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. He spun and juked his way into the paint with ease, and he displayed more control over the offence itself than we’re used to seeing. The theatrics were nice, too.
Every member of the bench unit finished the game with positive plus-minuses, which was incredible given that they played without Siakam or Van Vleet for the majority of their minutes. The lineup of Wright-Powell-Miles-Anunoby-Monroe was excellent, despite lacking some shooting.
By the time a few starters re-entered the game midway through the second, the Raptors were already ahead by double-digits. Leonard took over, hitting a pair of triples, and shouldering his way to a layup; however, when Ibaka finally hit a triple, his first in a month, it was clear that the game was over.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was impressive for the Clippers. The Canadian guard had friends and family in attendance, and he didn’t disappoint. He was able to beat defenders at the point of attack, and his in-between game really shone. He didn’t explode to the rim and finish over bigs, but he always kept his options available, kept his balance, and finished well after creating any separation. His passing was just as impressive.
Toronto ended the game in the third quarter. They started forcing turnovers instead of just missed shots, and Toronto is always excellent in transition. The Clippers just seemed a step slow, as Toronto won practically every facet of the game. When the starters hit the wood, Greg Monroe scored well and even hit a jumper.
Chris Boucher was excellent in garbage time. Things just happen for him when he’s on the court. In only six minutes on the court, he scored 8 points and snatched 4 rebounds. The guy is a per-36 god, obviously, but he’s fun to watch and could grow into a real contributor.
Winning the Kawhi-bowl calmed nerves in so many ways, but mostly the game represents a return to normality for Toronto. It’s been a period of relative trouble, but the Raptors took out their frustrations on their opponents. The win harkened back to the Raptors of the early season, who far more frequently blew out their opponents. Toronto played a full 48 minutes, not losing focus at any point and letting the Clippers sneak back into the game. They leave tomorrow for a three-game road trip, where they’ll travel to Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New York. Then they’ll have some time at home before the all-star break.