If there was ever a five-game road trip where you didn’t want the injury bug to hit, the Toronto Raptors are on it right now. Starting in New Orleans, a back-to-back in the Staples Center against powerhouse Los Angeles teams, and finishing in Portland and Dallas — all without your most important starter and best bench player — seems like a fair reason to write off this portion of the schedule.
Still, though, the enduringly fun Raptors pull out wins. With Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka out, Toronto pulled off their most satisfying win since raising the Larry OB in June, as ten players propelled them to a 113-104 win over the previously 7-1 Lakers on the road. The depleted bench scored 43 points, including double digits from Chris Boucher (15), Terence Davis (13), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (10) — who all looked exceptional in extended minutes.
Now, the big Monday question on our minds is... can the mojo carry over into a matchup with the LA Clippers?
The motivations are obviously built on. Waiting for them is Kawhi Leonard, the man who spurned them in the off-season despite winning a championship, leaving at the peak of his popularity in Canada. While his reasoning is understandable, there’s no doubt from a Raptors player’s perspective that this is a game you would circle on the calendar, as I’m sure the team wants to prove how good they can look without their former superstar. I mean, we saw it last night, right?
Let’s get into the game details and what to watch for.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 10:30 PM ET
Toronto - Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Los Angeles — Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Patterson, Ivica Zubac
Toronto — Kyle Lowry (thumb - out), Serge Ibaka (ankle - out), Patrick McCaw (knee - out)
Los Angeles — Paul George (rehab - out)
OG and RHJ against Kawhi
One of the best parts of last night’s game (there were a lot!) was seeing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and OG Anunoby thoroughly enjoy their matchup with LeBron James. Crowding the King without fear, the two of them looked engaged and unafraid as they forced LeBron into a poor shooting night (5-for-15). Of course, because it’s LeBron, he still had a triple-double — but the Raptors’ pressure defence and transition play forced LeBron to miss some runners he would otherwise knock down.
That individual defensive emphasis will once again be on OG and Hollis-Jefferson in this game, as they get the assignment of Kawhi Leonard.
While Kawhi is on something of an MVP pace, averaging 29.0 points on 46.2% shooting, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists without Paul George in the lineup (George, who was rumoured to return tonight, will not), Raptors fans will know he is prone to inefficient shooting when played by the best. OG and Hollis-Jefferson have to mime their performance from last night and be the best.
Especially in their starting lineup, the 6-3 Clippers haven’t looked like world-beaters when Kawhi isn’t carrying the offensive workload. Most nights, they’re biding time until they can get Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell on the floor, who have developed elite chemistry for two bench players. If the two wing defenders for Toronto can slow down Kawhi and force that bench to come back from a deficit, they have a much better chance in this game.
Another matchup that should be interesting tonight is Lou Williams against Terence Davis II as point guards coming off the bench. Davis reeled in his recent foul troubles against the Lakers, putting down a line of 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists — throwing some flashy pick and roll passes late in the fourth quarter to seal the game for Toronto.
If Davis can’t stop Lou Williams when they’re on the floor together (truth be told, nobody really stops Sweet Lou), answering the bell on the offensive end like he did in the Lakers game will be just as important. One of the best things the Raptors bigs did is set Davis up for success, as Boucher and Siakam set up some great screens to get him into space.
Without Kyle Lowry, the biggest surprise might be that Toronto has secretly had a backup point guard all along. By putting Terence Davis in a spot to succeed through his minutes on the floor, the Raptors can balance what they’re likely giving up on the other end.
Keep Making Statements
Look, many of us will be burning the midnight oil to watch this one. While Kawhi left for admirable reasons, he still left shortly after winning a championship. He individually created a path to join forces with Paul George, all while taking meetings with the Raptors and putting up some sort of front that he would return. You can’t fault a guy for going home, but you wouldn’t be wrong to be mad at him for doing so.
For the Raptors, there has to be that same dichotomy of feeling. They can be happy for their former leader, but there’s surely still that innate desire to kick his ass in his new home arena. Tonight is a great opportunity to do so. The Raptors showed last night that their peak is still pretty high, even without Lowry and Serge Ibaka in the lineup.
With the Clippers still shorthanded and in the early stages of figuring out their team, now would be a great time to firmly put the wider NBA conversation into Toronto, Ontario. Many people wrote us off before the season. A back-to-back sweep in Staples Center would force those people to pay attention.