The Los Angeles Clippers have the league's best offence so far this New Year.
That may be a bit surprising considering they've been doing this minus floor general Chris Paul, and dead-eye shooter JJ Redick.
But Toronto Raptors' fans got to see Lob City in action first-hand last night as the Clips walked all over the Dinos in a 118 to 105 win. The loss by Toronto gave them a record of two wins and three defeats on this now-concluded five-game Western Conference road swing and the team heads back to Toronto looking like it could use a break.
In a big way.
Much like the loss to Sacramento on Wednesday night, the club looked sluggish and out of sorts on defense on many occasions, and dug too deep a hole to climb out of even though a solid fourth quarter run put the club back in the match.
Toronto used a 10 to 1 run to close the third quarter and get what seemed like an impossible margin to overcome, down to single digits, but it was all for naught. The Clippers led by as many as 22 points and let that slip to only 9 to start the final period, but quickly got back in sorts and finished strong, grabbing their 35th win on the season.
Blake Griffin led the way for LA with 36 points and 8 rebounds and his 19 first-quarter points set the tone for the match. Had Griffin not been in foul trouble most of the match, the final score might have been even uglier as it was with Griffin on the pine in the late third and early fourth quarter that Toronto made its run.
On the other side, DeMar DeRozan put on an All-Star worthy performance keeping Toronto within striking distance thanks to his own 36 points and 8 rebounds, and more importantly, got to the free-throw line a career-high 19 times, hitting 17 of those.
Unfortunately as has been the case of late, DeRozan didn't get enough help. Kyle Lowry had 19 points but it took him 18 shots to get those, and he had but 3 assists.
Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds but hit only 3 of his 9 foul shots, and was a minus 14 on the night, frequently getting out-muscled in the paint by players like Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
In fact as one of our readers noted during the liveblog, "being out-muscled" has unfortunately been a common theme in Toronto losses of late as players like Al Jefferson, Jared Sullinger, DeMarcus Cousins and Griffin and Jordan have all had a field day against Toronto's interior. Amir Johnson was a non-factor again last night putting up 8 points and 5 rebounds and was a team-worst minus 18 on the evening. Johnson looks like he could use the All-Star break to rest and his back-ups last night, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough, while effective in spurts, didn't display much consistency in terms of replacing Amir's production either. Patterson even air-balled an open three-pointer late in the game which pretty much summed up Toronto's night.
The 2 and 3 record from this road trip certainly isn't atrocious, but Toronto should at least be coming home with another win and looks like a team that needs to do some regrouping, especially on D. Wins against the Jazz and Nuggets are fine, but the club overall just hasn't looked very good. They gave up an average of 105 points per game on this Western Swing, a mark that summarizes the effectiveness of their defence of late, and post-All-Star break the club is going to have to get back to the basics if it wants to remain in the hunt for the third playoff spot in the East.
First though, the team faces a few more interesting tests as they face the New Orleans Hornets on Monday, a club that would likely be a playoff club in the East, and then a number of potential playoff foes from the East as the Raps take on the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls post ASG repose.
I'll leave it at that and make one final note on the match regarding Dwane Casey's hack-a-DeAndre Jordan strategy. Casey rolled out this ploy with Toronto flirting with a 20 point deficit in the third quarter and while it didn't do much to change the score at first (the Raps got within 18), it did change the pace of the game and when Jordan exited, Toronto made its run. It certainly wasn't the prettiest thing to watch, and is further proof that the NBA needs to address this sort of tactic, but credit to Casey for using what the rules gave him permission to do as nothing else was working at that point. Playing at one of the league's slower paces, it was crucial that the Dinos got the Clips playing their style of ball if they wanted a shot to win and for a while it worked.
Of course, I'd prefer to never have to witness it again.