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Five thoughts on last night: Raptors 123, Clippers 99

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Kyle Lowry returned to form and the Raptors started their West coast trip in all the right ways, dumping the Clippers 123-99.

Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 123, Los Angeles Clippers 99, Kyle Lowry Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers were on the second night of a back-to-back, coming off of an overtime game in Phoenix; the Toronto Raptors were hungry and eager to bust out of a slump. Put those two together and you get a Raptors rout. It was a fun one, so let’s jump right into the thoughts:

Does the Raptors’ Offense Look Better without Kawhi?

I swear, I’m not trying to be Hot Take Josh here, proclaiming “The Raptors are better without Kawhi Leonard!”. BUT. The Raptors without Kawhi sometimes look a little more free and loose. Leonard, naturally, dominates the ball when he’s on the floor, and he’s so talented, it just makes sense to let him have his way with opposing players. But when he’s not there, sometimes it feels like everyone else feels a little more freedom — to drive, to take a shot, to make an extra pass — instead of deferring to Kawhi.

The Raptors scored 36 in the first quarter, with four of five starters each shooting the ball at least four times. The Raptors dropped 34 in the second, and all nine Raptors that played took at least one shot. For the half they shot 64.6%; 36 of their 70 points came in the paint.

I’m certainly not saying the Raptors are better without Leonard or that Leonard is hurting their offense. And surely a tired Clippers team contributed to those numbers. But I am suggesting that Leonard and the coaching staff still have some work to do when it comes to fully integrating Leonard with the offense, and that the other Raptors still have some work to do getting comfortable with Leonard on the floor.

Third Quarter Hammer Drop

Perhaps tired of getting asked questions about blowing leads, the Raptors came out and quickly stretched their 13-point halftime lead to 20 in four minutes, forcing two Doc Rivers timeouts along the way. That stretch included five fast break points, Serge Ibaka scoring seven straight Raptors points, a forced 24-second violation (pretty much my favourite thing to see in a basketball game), and two Ibaka blocks.

By the time the bench filtered in around the four-minute mark, the score was 88-65, and by the time the third quarter buzzer sounded it was 103-74. The Raptors scored 14 fast break points in that quarter alone, and held the Clippers to 0-for-5 from behind the arc. That’s how you put a tired squad away: Clamp down on D, get out and run.

Ibaka and Kyle Lowry were both sensational in the quarter; they combined for 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting, with 10 rebounds between them.

OG Anunoby, Trying to Snap the Sophomore Slump

OG Anunoby had been struggling mightily of late, shooting just 9-for-28 in the month of December, and averaging more personal fouls per game than steals, blocks and assists combined. He really seemed mired in that sophomore slump, and just didn’t look like himself out there.

He finally put it all together in the first half last night, flashing both the offensive and defensive promise we all saw last season. On defense, he stripped a ball from Tyrone Wallace as Wallace tried to ross him over, leading the a fast break the other way, and later dove on the floor after another loose ball; on offense, he had two 3-pointers and an and-1 finish on a drive.

He’d finish with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and hopefully, a dash of confidence in his shot making that will help keep the sophomore blues away.

So When do We Stop Saying “If Siakam Adds a 3-Point Shot...”

OK, so probably not yet. But we’re getting there! Pascal Siakam came into last night’s game shooting 34.6% from downtown, and went 1-for-2 last night.

And check out the shot chart:

Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 123, Los Angeles Clippers 99, Pascal Siakam shot chart Austin Clemens, Swish 2.0

Virtually all of the three-point attempts are from the corners, which shows that when he’s not streaking and spinning his way to the rim, he’s still putting himself in good positions. (And yep, both of his attempts last night were from the corner as well.)

34.6% on 1.9 attempts per game isn’t setting the world on fire. But at some point, if Siakam can continue making more than a third of his triples, defenses are going to have to start respecting it... which, in theory, should simply open up more driving and playmaking opportunities. And it should only help Siakam’s case as the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

Just a Few Too Many Raptors Killers on This Team for my Taste

Are the Clippers specially building a team to beat the Raptors? They acquired Mike Scott, Montresz Harrel and Tobias Harris within the last 18 months, all known for scorching the Raptors in the past. There’s Marcin Gortat, who although traditionally gets eaten up by Jonas Valanciunas on one end, always seems to score in bunches the other way.

Then you have Milos Teodisic, who burned the Raptors last year, first with 15 points in an easy Clippers win, and then with a back-breaking go-ahead three with 40 seconds left to seal another Clippers win and season series sweep.

We certainly can’t forget Lou Williams, former Raptor, who has relished scalding the Raptors (particularly in the fourth quarter) since his Sixth-Man winning season in Toronto five years ago; the Raptors are lucky he was out of the lineup last night.

And now the Clippers are rolling out Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamilton’s own, to rub salt in the wound? Sheesh.

It didn’t seem to matter much last night, but should these two teams meet in the Finals, it could be a problem.

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Of course, the most important thing about last night’s game was Kyle Lowry, breaking out of his slump. One game isn’t a trend of course, but it sure was good to see him knocking down three-pointers (4-for-8 from downtown) and score at the rim (3-for-3 in the paint). Let’s hope it was indeed a slump-breaker, as the Raptors will need another big one from him tonight against the Warriors.