The NBA season doesn’t truly start until a team faces adversity. The Toronto Raptors, amidst a grueling five-game road trip, fresh off of a spirited win against the Los Angeles Lakers last night, now head back to the Staples Center to take on the other team in Tinseltown, the Los Angeles Clippers. Two of Toronto’s pillars, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry, have suffered injuries that will set them out for several weeks. The Clippers have been rested since Thursday. They also have a player by the name of Kawhi Leonard.
The defending NBA champions are under real pressure for the first time this season.
Pressure also provides opportunity. Last night, the Raptors bench made the most of this opportunity, jumping at the vacuum of minutes that were ready to be soaked up with Lowry and Ibaka’s absence. Nick Nurse went ten deep in the first half alone against the Lakers, and some of these funky groups worked! Chris Boucher and Terence Davis had their best games as professionals, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson brought a unique element to the team on both ends of the floor. If one or two bench guys can bring consistent play in these minutes it will bode well for Toronto once their stalwarts return.
To the outside world, anything following that adrenaline-inducing win against the Lakers on the Raptors’ road trip is gravy. Heck, anything this season after last year’s championship success was supposed to be gravy too! But that is not how this group operates. Their focus from night to night on the small details and the immediate task at hand has been immense. They will walk back into Staples Center tonight fully expecting to be as locked in as yesterday. Some players may feel a little sluggish this morning —Siakam logged a gargantuan 42 minutes— but the opportunity to go head-to-head with Leonard for the first time will serve as enough motivation.
Meanwhile, the Clippers have been as good as advertised so far this season. The team has marched to a 6-3 record, with two of those losses coming in Leonard’s absence due to his load management schedule. When Leonard has played, well, he’s been Kawhi Leonard. The reigning Finals MVP is currently averaging an absurd 13.5 points in the fourth quarter.
Kawhi Leonard scored 18 of his 27 PTS in the 4th quarter!
Dame & CJ both went scoreless in the final period!! pic.twitter.com/CZWNXBsVM3
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) November 8, 2019
Low usage players like Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, and Maurice Harkless have meshed well with their new megastar’s style of play. The starting unit has posted an iron-clad 97.0 defensive rating, a result of their imposing length and versatility. This group doesn’t boast playmaking, but they serve as quality role players that revolve around Leonard’s individual brilliance.
However, when the Clippers bring in their two-headed monster of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, their identity changes. The duo form one of the toughest pick-and-roll actions to handle in the league, spearheading a bench group that leads the league in scoring at 50.6 points per game. Although the likes of Hollis-Jefferson and Davis finally got the opportunity they wanted yesterday, today will serve as an even tougher assignment. Boucher has notoriously struggled as a pick-and-roll defender, something that Williams will repeatedly look to exploit.
All of the Clippers’ success has occurred without the services of their other new star, Paul George. He is expected to return to the team soon following double shoulder surgery but will not be available tonight against Toronto, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George is ruled out for Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) November 11, 2019
The individual matchups across the board are mouth-watering. Fred VanVleet— who refound his touch around the rim— gets to deal with Beverley. Most importantly, Siakam and Anunoby will share the Leonard assignment. All I want is one Siakam spin move on Leonard on the low block. Please, just one.
It is a tall order for the Raptors to pick themselves up for another massive game on such a short turnaround, but we’ve learnt to never count this group out.
Tipoff: 10:40pm EST | TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: TheFan590
Kyle Lowry (thumb) is out for at least two weeks. Patrick McCaw (knee) and Serge Ibaka (ankle) are out indefinitely.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Terence Davis II
SG: Norman Powell, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Dewan Hernandez
C: Marc Gasol, Chris Boucher
Paul George (shoulder) is out.
PG: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Derrick Walton Jr.
SG: Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, Jerome Robinson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Terence Mann
PF: Patrick Patterson, JaMychal Green
C: Ivica Zubac, Montrezl Harrell, Mfiondu Kabengele