It’s a funny thing, seeing old foes in new places. LeBron James has owned a lot of real estate in the heads of the Toronto Raptors, as they’ve seen their last three post-seasons end thanks to an exultant James in Cleveland red and gold.
Now LeBron’s traded the red for purple, and much like the Cavaliers team he inherited when he initially returned to Ohio, there’s... a lot of work to be done in Los Angeles.
On Sunday, the Raptors, led by Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, were surgical in breaking down a young, porous Lakers defense early on, jumping out to a 46-17 lead. That was enough to avoid some scary moments down the stretch, as Toronto improved to 9-1 with a 121-107 win.
Lowry, on a night where Kawhi Leonard sat out with toe soreness, was excellent yet again for the Raptors. He had 21 points and 15 assists, his franchise-record eighth straight game with ten or more helpers, for the double-double.
Early in the game, there was plenty of Lowry to go around. Without Kawhi, OG Anunoby got the start at small forward and Serge Ibaka started at the centre. With a super athletic starting five, the Raptors weren’t shy about exploiting the suspect defense of Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, as Lowry, Ibaka and Siakam repeatedly abused them in offensive actions to earn open looks.
Toronto quickly opened up a 20-8 lead, with Ibaka being the main beneficiary of L.A.’s breakdowns. The big man had 20 in the first nine minutes of play, setting up a 42-17 first quarter for the Raptors — the worst point differential for a Lakers quarter in franchise history (a long damn time). Serge would finish with a career-high 34 points on 15-for-17 shooting, adding ten rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
LeBron would have some say in the momentum of second quarter, though, as the Lakers began to run more offense through their superstar. They were able to play the Raptors mostly even until late in the quarter, when Toronto’s starters again broke their lead open. The Raptors would go into the break up 71-49, with Ibaka already having posted 26 of his eventual 34.
In the third, the Lakers continued to chip away. The Raptors started to continually lose their bench minutes, a theme for the night as C.J. Miles, Norm Powell, and Fred VanVleet would combine to go 0-for-14 from the field in 17, 14, and 23 minutes respectively. Though LeBron would take a permanent seat early in the fourth, the Lakers youngsters — led by Lonzo Ball and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk of all people — provided some energy to get the Raptors lead down as low as ten.
Unfortunately, even with the Utah Jazz coming tomorrow night, this forced Nick Nurse’s hand in bringing back Lowry and the starters to close out the game. In typical fashion, the point guard did some cool stuff to ice the game.
The Lakers were led by 24 points from Kyle Kuzma, who shot 10-for-16. LeBron James chipped in 18 points and six assists in 28 minutes.
Pascal Siakam had 16 points and 13 boards for the Raptors, while Danny Green hit five threes for 15 points.
The Raptors now look forward to Utah tomorrow night, when they expect to have Kawhi Leonard back in the lineup.