On the occasion of their eighth straight win, the Raptors should send a thank you note to the league schedule makers. It was nice enough of them to plan out a seven-game home stand in the slow January winter, nicer still for the middle game of the run to be against the Clippers. This is Toronto's fourth straight win against Los Angeles, and as with the others, it was extremely satisfying. Led by an efficient 21 points and six assists by Kyle Lowry, the Raptors took the lead in the second quarter and never really looked back.
It was the first quarter that saw the Clippers jump out to a powerful 34-27 lead of their own. They were shooting 54 percent, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan were getting the shots they wanted, and the Raptors (save for 13 points from DeMar DeRozan) looked a little overwhelmed. But as has been the knock on the Clippers for some time now, they remain an incredibly thin team. Case in point, the next three quarters.
The Raptors bench outscored the Clippers bench 41-29 (and a chunk of those points are due to Lance Stephenson garbage time buckets). All five of the Clips' bench players who put in more than eight minutes were hugely in the minus. This includes super-sub Jamal Crawford, who was hounded for most of the game by Cory Joseph into a 1-for-6 shooting night. The other two starters, Luc Mbah a Moute and Paul Pierce (remember him) did not fair much better. Sure, Paul, Redick and Jordan continued to get their points, but the Clippers as a team were a sinking ship. "It's tough," said Paul. "To get off to the start that we got off to and to let those guys back into the game, we just never recovered."
What a long strange trip it's been, though, for the Raptors bench this season. At first, it looked like the two newcomers, Joseph (12 points on 5-of-8 shooting tonight) and Bismack Biyombo (a 10-and-9 performance), would provide the team's lone spark night in and night out. The holdover names, however, had many of us shaking our heads in concern. After an initial month that ranks among the very worst of Terrence Ross' career, he's come alive as of late. Tonight, he dropped 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting (including five 3s) while adding four rebounds and four steals. Meanwhile, his brother-in-arms Patrick Patterson, who was once playing basketball like a Russian nesting doll (a shell of a shell of himself), potted ten points, grabbed six rebounds, and made himself a nuisance everywhere on the court on defense.
"It just feels good," said Patterson after the game. He elaborated: "Knowing that CuJo is doing a great job running the second unit, finding Biz down low, finishing around the rim, shooting those free throws, myself spacing the floor, T-Ross is consistently hitting down his threes and coming off pin-downs with confidence, and we're all just rolling getting stops on the defensive end, rebounding and pushing in transition and scoring on the opposite side of the ball. So you know, it just feels good. Everyone's on the same page, everyone's focussed. And we're just having fun."
It was remarked on Twitter that the Raptors are now the Clippers' Hornets, which is a very confusing sentence. But step back, and it makes sense. After a slow first quarter, the Raptors handily dominated the Clippers once again for the fourth time in a row. They've now won eight straight games and sit at 29-15, just two games back of Cleveland for first place. Toronto will need a strong second unit if they're going to make that push for the top. As coach Dwane Casey agreed after the game: "I thought that second unit got their togetherness, their rhythm and their chemistry going that we're going to need as we go down the road."
What did you guys think of the game?