Tonight in Los Angeles, the Clippers are playing host to the Raptors, and to Canadian Heritage Night. The reasons for this latter decision are obvious: Toronto is in Canada, and the future of the Clippers rests in the so far capable (Canadian) hands of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — gifted with the beautiful nickname of Shai Gorgeous. If this kid was a boxer, he’d be the world champ.
Still, the idea of Canadian Heritage Night is weird as hell. The promotion apparently comes with a free t-shirt (naturally), but after that I’m already grimacing at what potentially “Canadian” things will be involved in the night. Will they make poutine jokes? Will a moose (not Greg Monroe) be involved? Are they going to play the music of Bryan Adams? The mind boggles. (We don’t even have to get into the actual heritage of Canada, which at times has not be something to be super proud about — but I digress.)
This is all to distract from another basic fact: the Raptors need this win in the worst way. They’ve lost three of their last four — one to a top west team (Nuggets), one to an annoying team (Nets), and one to their top East rival (Bucks). The Clippers fall into that first category; they’re a surprisingly good West team, built with a lot of depth and moxie — just like the Raptors.
Who will prevail? Well, that’s why they play the games. Below are your game details this morning, and below that are some things to watch for as the game plays out.
Where to Watch:
10:30pm EST on Sportsnet One
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Los Angeles - Avery Bradley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic
Toronto - Norman Powell (shoulder - out)
Los Angeles - Luc Mbah a Moute (knee - out), Jerome Williams (foot - out)
Kyle Lowry Watch Continues
Obviously, until he breaks out of his slump, we’re going to be concerned about Kyle Lowry. As has been pointed out, Lowry is still doing the things the team needs him to do every night — except take and make shots. If I sound like a broken record, I’d like to redirect you back to that “obviously” up there.
Other Lowry stats during his shooting slump:— Chris Black (@ByChrisBlack) December 10, 2018
9.0 assists (1st on team)
4.6 rebounds (6th on team)
1.6 steals (2nd on team)
1.2 blocks (t-2nd on team)
2.6 fouls drawn (3rd on team)
With Lowry in his own head, it means the Raptors have one less shooter on the floor at any given time. What’s more, it severely cramps Toronto’s ability to run a pick-and-roll — a play that really works well given Lowry’s (former) penchant for bombing away from 3 with just a whisper of space. And in transition, Lowry’s pull-up threes are also quite powerful. It’s hard to protect against a galloping Pascal Siakam, worry about Danny Green, keep an eye on Kawhi Leonard, and see Lowry shoot on a dime.
The Clippers have some dudes who can hassle Lowry — Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley chief among them — but maybe that will just get the Raptors’ leader mad. It could happen.
The Forward Battle
Setting aside the Boban curveball, much of what the Clippers do on offense comes from Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, and the loud game of Montrezl Harrell. If you’ve been following the Raptors for any time, you’d know that Harris has long been a danger to Toronto — in Orlando, Detroit, and now in LA. He’s the kind of quick and skilled forward that has burned them time and time again — except now the Raptors have Siakam to counter him.
Meanwhile, a player like Gallinari, another crafty forward, will have his hands full trying to deal with [checks paper] Kawhi Leonard. Or maybe the two switch assignments with Siakam, to which all I can say: good luck. It’s actually heartening to write this out and realize that while the 17-9 Clippers are good, and they get a lot of production from Harris and Gallo, the Raptors may match-up quite well against them.
Harrell is a different problem. He’s one of those athletic, board-eating monsters that can really cause the Raptors trouble. Given Toronto’s penchant for giving up offensive boards, and Harrell’s relative thirst for them, it’ll be interesting to see how Serge Ibaka manages to contain him (or if Jonas Valanciunas will even be able to keep up).
The Harrell Problem slides right into my final point this morning: keep an eye on the Clippers’ depth. Much like the Raptors, LA can run ten or 11 deep just for the hell of it. They’ve got Lou Williams back and lurking, Mike Scott hanging around, and even someone like Marcin Gortat (well past his prime, but still) sitting on the bench. The guys they do give heavy minutes to have been proven to be major nuisances (Beverly! Bradley! Harrell! You get it). My point here is that the Clippers have been getting by largely on extreme effort (rather than Kawhi-like singular talents), and it’ll take a full 48 minutes of focus — something of a problem for the Raps as of late, or always — to put them away.
And then there’s the aforementioned Shai Gorgeous, who, despite averaging just 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, has shown he belongs in the NBA. Kudos to him, kudos to the Canada that raised him — I hope the Raptors win.