Raptors wrap up difficult 2021 with win over Clippers 116-108

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Courtesy: raptors.com

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2021 was a roller coaster for the Toronto Raptors. They rebounded from a tough start in Tampa just to have their season derailed by Covid, which turned about to be a blessing in disguise because it resulted in drafting Scottie Barnes. The Raps have rarely had a full team at their disposal this entire calendar year which factored in their worst record since 2012 (41-59), however that may be just be around the corner. It’s a rare occurrence, but the opponent was actually the more discombobulated team roster wise. Main topics in this win below.

There will be a re-do tribute for Serge Ibaka

Point blank, it was sad to see Serge’s first return to Toronto in front of an empty arena. His well done tribute video was played when the Clippers were down 19-6 in the first quarter. That killed any chances of Ibaka actually watching it.

I’m not breaking any news here but I feel it’s obvious there will be a sequel on his next T.O trip. Hopefully it doesn’t take as long as its taking Danny Green to get his ring. Ibaka was a massive piece of the 2019 championship squad and also provided the most entertainment. From “How Hungry Are You,” to scarves or art and sometimes the occasional fight, the vibes were immaculate. Serge is also the main reason the Raptors swagger was at an all-time high ironically after Kawhi Leonard left, during the 15-game win streak early 2020 before the world got turned upside down.

OG Anunoby is back

Here’s a crazy stat. This was only Anunoby’s second game since November 15. OG had seven points in his original comeback game against the Warriors on December 18th, before protocols sidelined him for another 13 days. Let’s skip straight to his contribution to start the fourth, because nearly everything by the Raptors before that was what Dwane Casey used to describe as “playing in mud.”

These all came at a time when the Raptors were looking for something, anything after being outplayed by the undermanned Clippers. Those three plays were a microcosm of early season Anunoby – draining a tough shot against the shot clock and making things happen defensively. He had 26 points (third highest scoring total this season), six boards and four steals. It’s very encouraging that he looks like himself at a time where the Raptors have an opportunity to make up some ground in the standings.

Winning Time: A Fred and Pascal special

Fred VanVleet had this impressive one-on-four play in the third quarter, but this is all about what happened down the stretch. VanVleet and Pascal Siakam took over the last four minutes in a 101-101 game running different pick and roll variations. Reggie Jackson was continuously a victim of being switched onto Siakam. The Clippers tried to counter with Terance Mann, but that didn’t work either. Here’s a great summary.

Siakam had a whale of a game. 25 points, a career-high tying 19 rebounds (jokingly disappointed that he couldn’t get 20 afterwards), seven assists, two steals and two blocks. He’s shot 50 percent or better in each of the last four games.

“They’re a switching team, and I felt like I had the advantage every time they switched. Just try to exploit those matchups and Fred also, if a bigger guy gets on him he can drive and do different things. I just thought we had the advantage on both sides and wanted to move the defence. It worked tonight and we just kept running it.” Pascal said after the game.

Meanwhile, Fred VanVleet admitted he was frustrated with his shooting (10-27) and being tired with “jello legs,” but he had game highs of 31 points and nine assists in his first game back from protocols. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Fred playing a part in delivering the win will only help his growing all-star case, which Louis covered earlier this week.

Fans have been retweeting VanVleet for the all-star game in droves. He’s noticed.

Sidenotes

Justin Champagnie’s contributions were subtle, but necessary. Similar to the Thunder game earlier this month where brutal play by Svi Mykhailiuk sent Nick Nurse searching deeper on his bench for a spark, Svi’s back to back airball threes in the third quarter (the first attempt was highly questionable shot selection) landed him on the bench again. Khem Birch returned and looked good in his 19 minutes, but it was Champagnie who was part of the key stretch late. He had a timely cut on a Siakam post up where all five Clippers were ball watching. Pascal spotted him for a layup to put the Raptors up 96-94.

Siakam missed two free throws at the four minute mark with the game tied, and Champagnie got one of his two offensive boards. That eventually led to the Siakam tip-in which was part of the pick and roll montage above. Nurse took note of that play postgame.

“It’s huge, they’re impactful plays. Pascal missed both free throws and Justin came away with the ball. It takes an unspirited moment and puts some spirit right back into it,” Nurse said.

What’s Next?

Are we bringing bing bong into 2022? The Raptors play the Knicks again and they’ve already beaten them twice this season. Happy New Year!

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