Riding six straight wins into Los Angeles to meet a (very) banged up Clippers team, there was reason to hope for the Toronto Raptors on this Monday night. Unfortunately, the streak met its sorry end, as mistakes snowballed and the Raptors played their way into a 96-91 loss.
We’ll start with the lone bright spot for Toronto, as Jonas Valanciunas had his best game of the season (which hopefully won’t be forgotten); he was an absolute beast in a matchup with All-Star centre DeAndre Jordan, with 23 points and 15 rebounds in 28 minutes. He made eight of ten field goals, including a three, and was perfect from both lines.
Beyond Valanciunas, though, who clearly came in with the swagger of a man who owns a $1,000 Gucci t-shirt, it was a horrid mess for the rest of the Raptors.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan needed 26 shots to get to 31 points, as Lowry missed all eight of his three-point attempts — this after going 3-for-12 from deep Sunday in Sacramento. Lowry also struggled moving his feet on defense, with guard penetration setting up otherwise pitiful Clippers possessions.
Then, there were the other guys.
This road trip has been subpar for the reserve unit, but the Clippers really took it to the Raptors in this one. Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam were overwhelmed by the size and effort of Jordan and Montrezl Harrell, who either banged in or snuck in for offensive rebounds and extra possessions.
Los Angeles out-rebounded Toronto 14-3 on the offensive side, and 57 to 42 overall. Harrell ended up with 17 points off the bench, adding four rebounds and a pair of blocks in 16 energetic minutes.
Also struggling were Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet, who combined to go 2-for-12. Teams seem to be wising up to the shooting struggles of these two, as a second straight opponent packed it in on Siakam and Poeltl in the paint to leave the smalls open outside. They missed those, and Powell also made some horrendous decisions early in the shot clock — shots and drives that ended in challenged misses, and bad ones at that. That, and some spacing out on defense, added up to one of his worst performances on memory.
But hey, it can’t all be bad. The Raptors started the game on a 12-5 tear, involving Valanciunas for eight of the team’s first 12 points. DeRozan continued to look for teammates early in the game, making four of his eight assists in the first quarter as he was quick to pass to Ibaka and Valanciunas in space.
The yo-yo bounced back when the bench came in to close the first and start the second. Again, it was an all-reserve unit that struggled — given tonight’s result, it may be time to pull the trigger on staggering Lowry and DeRozan so they can generate offense with this unit. With Powell struggling and opponents zeroing in on the pick and roll, there needs to be some one-on-one creation or the half-court offense really starts to stagnate.
A two-point halftime lead stayed more or less even through the second half, as both teams seemed determined to lose with increasingly brutal mistakes. The Clippers were no better than the Raptors shooting: they won making 37% from the field and 22% from three. It was the extra possessions that bought them a victory, culminating in a DeAndre Jordan tip-in with under a minute to go.
A baffling subnote to that play: Jonas Valanciunas, the team’s best rebounder (and player) tonight wasn’t in the game for this play. Dwane Casey, at the three-minute mark, opted to sub in Ibaka at the centre. The result was two Serge jump shots without rebounders in place (empty possessions with no hope of a second chance), and the Jordan tip-in to seal it. For once, the doubters had it right: Jonas should’ve been out there in the clutch.
So yes, let’s not forget Valanciunas on this night — and hope he can continue this kind of play going forward. But let’s go ahead and purge everything else. The Raptors are 17-8, and now head to Phoenix for a date with the Suns on Wednesday.