Worry about the Toronto Raptors if you must, but so far this season they’ve found ways to respond decisively. After difficult losses to the Nets and Bucks last weekend, plenty of questions were starting to rise about Kyle Lowry and the support Kawhi Leonard was getting from his teammates.
Well, on a night when Leonard sat out for load maintenance, consider the questions answered for now. Lowry led a full team effort against a top tier Western Conference team in the Los Angeles Clippers, as the Raptors won in 123-99 in a rout.
Lowry wasn’t the leading scorer in this game, but his line of 21 points on 13 shots was a huge sigh of relief. The point guard made 4-for-8 from three, going off on a classic stretch of makes late in the third quarter to bust the game open. He added seven assists, five rebounds, a steal and a block to at least temporarily silence his critics after skeptical whispers were turning to murmurs.
In support was an outstanding two-way game from Serge Ibaka, who had a game-high 25 points on 11-for-18 shooting, adding nine rebounds and three blocks. Ibaka was just part of a big man feast, as the Raptors were clinical in exposing the defence of Marcin Gortat and, to a lesser extend, Montrezl Harrell in running their bread and butter offence. Ibaka was spoon-fed great looks by Lowry and Fred VanVleet — who started in place of Leonard and racked up a career-high 14 assists — as the Raptors simply ran their stuff and ran away with the game.
The starters as a unit were magnificent for Toronto. None of the starting five, which featured Ibaka at centre, finished less than a +21. It was particularly heady for coach Nick Nurse to play the starters for a majority of the third quarter, as the Raptors were able to push their lead to 30 and allow a full 12 minutes of rest with the Warriors looming tomorrow.
Nurse, for his part of the story, was coaching through a heavy heart after the news earlier in the day that his mother has died. It can’t go unmentioned and deserves enormous props.
For Los Angeles, their leading scorer was Boban Marjonavic with 18 points, which says a lot for the Raptors dominance — the monstrous Boban scored most of his points in fourth quarter garbage time. Ty Wallace had the next highest total with 15.
The Clippers fall to 17-10 with the loss, while Toronto improves to 22-7.
This game opened with a flurry of scoring from Lowry, who seemed determined to self-create after criticism for not doing so in the last two games. Lowry drove into the paint for his first bucket, then had a steal and a score to add to it. Tobias Harris had a good start for the home side, as the Clippers led 15-14 going into the first timeout. A transition period from the starters to the bench favoured Toronto, though, as a Lowry three pushed their lead to seven and a 10-2 run to end the frame saw them up 36-23.
Toronto went full bench to start the second, as the Clippers dug in and got some good minutes from Milos Teodosic. The tall point guard made a couple beautiful assists, setting up easy buckets to chip the Raptors lead down to five. The Raptors stuck with their pick and roll attack, though, as Jonas Valanciunas went full viking on Harrell, starting 6-for-7 for 12 points in the first 18 minutes (he finished with 16 total) to push Toronto’s lead back to double digits.
Late in the first half, the Raptors continued to attack a conservative pick and roll defence featuring Marcin Gortat, as Ibaka poured in a few more jumpers, VanVleet made a few more assists, and Toronto went into another Christian & Scooby halftime up 70-57.
In the third, they turned it into a blowout. A Lowry jumper put the Raptors up 15, which was followed by an Ibaka three. Toronto ran a ton of high-paced action with Pascal Siakam at the point of attack, as the forward would finish with 13 points and five assists. Even he was serving up Ibaka (in what should surely be a future reversed segment of ‘How Hungry Are You?’) to open the Raptors lead above 20.
The Clippers tried to revert to the bench lineup that gave them energy in the second, but Nurse stuck with his starters and kept the foot on the gas. That’s when Lowry put his stamp on the game, making back-to-back threes to blow the game open. It allowed the Raptors to play a garbage time lineup for the entire fourth, giving the game its final score.
The Raptors now get the luxury of 21 hours rest before playing the red hot Warriors tomorrow. Get your popcorn ready.