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Five thoughts on last night: Clippers 98, Raptors 88

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In defensive slugfest, the Raptors came up short — but put up one heck of a fight against the Clippers in L.A.

Five thoughts recap: Los Angeles Clippers 98, Toronto Raptors 88, Fred VanVleet Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Raptors showed that “heart of a champion” once again last night, and for three quarters, they fought and scrapped and stayed in it... but the effort of playing shorthanded on a back-to-back caught up with them, and the Los Angeles Clippers pulled away late.

I don’t believe in moral victories, but I respect the heck out of the fight the Raptors showed — and damn, it was fun, wasn’t it?

No Legs, but Plenty of Fight

After a scuffling start to the third quarter, I thought fatigue had set in and the Raptors were cooked. Norman Powell, who was playing a pretty terrible game overall, scored seven straight points for the Raptors, if you wanted to know how it was going. And the Clippers weren’t hitting shots, but were hauling in every offensive rebound. Pascal Siakam was sitting on six points! One big Clippers bucket, and this thing was gonna be over.

But then: a second wind! (It might have been a third, or fourth, wind at this point). Siakam hit a triple, Fred VanVleet scored on a drive, Siakam scored on a drive. The defense stayed solid. These Raptors just don't know how to quit: they turned a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead heading into the fourth.

But all good things end, and fatigue finally did catch up with Toronto in the fourth. The Raptors had no legs left, couldn’t finish in the paint and gave away multiple unforced turnovers.

I’m a little bummed that Nick Nurse couldn’t find a minute or two of rest for Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet in the second half. Obviously, the team’s depth is compromised right now, but whether it’s a an extra Terence Davis minute at point to end the third, or a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson minute at the four to start the fourth, whatever those guys gave in those spots, it couldn’t have been worse than what we saw from the completely gassed Fred and Pascal as the game wound down. Siakam could barely run up and down the floor!

Asking those guys to play 24 straight minutes on the second night of a back-to-back was just too much.

Terence Davis, Challenging Triples

I am generally a believer that you should never leave your feet when challenging a three-point shooter. The odds of blocking a shot out there are so slim, and the odds of getting faked and giving up a man advantage are high.

And yet:

I still don’t think it’s a good play, especially from a rookie. But it’s highly entertaining when it works out, isn’t it?

Is Chris Boucher Here to Stay?

Chris Boucher had his second excellent game in a row, with 13 points and six boards, even shooting 3-for-5 from downtown. But when he drew a charge on Kawhi Leonard, I thought, that’s it — he’s channeling Kyle Lowry, Boucher is here to stay! And, my goodness, that block on Montrezl Harrell late — that was a thing of beauty.

Now, the game did reveal some of Boucher’s weaknesses; he couldn’t keep up with the strength of Harrell, who simply bullied his way to the rim repeatedly, and kept Boucher about a mile from the rim the other way (just one rebound from Boucher in the first half); Boucher in turn was reduced to hacking, and picked up four fouls in short order. He was also a little bit out of control on offense in the fourth, as the Raptors scrambled, looking for something that would work.

Still — I’m more convinced than ever that Boucher has earned a spot in the rotation. Not that he’s gonna take Serge Ibaka’s spot when Serge comes back or anything, but I can see him playing 10-12 consistent minutes a night, giving Ibaka and Marc Gasol a little extra rest.

RHJ, Getting it Done, Mostly

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played well Sunday night, and fully earned his second half minutes against the Lakers. Last night he was pressed into service early, when OG Anunoby left the game after getting poked in the eye.

And he played pretty well! Most importantly, he did a solid job hassling Kawhi Leonard on the defensive end; even when Kawhi got to his spots, RHJ was able to get a hand up and prevent any easy looks. He clearly knew the scheme Nick Nurse wanted to deploy against Leonard, and executed it extremely well.

On offense, though, I gotta say, Hollis-Jefferson’s finishing around the rim is oddly terrible for a player of his size and athleticism.

I mean, look at this shot chart:

Five thoughts recap: Los Angeles Clippers 98, Toronto Raptors 88, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson shot chart NBA.com

I love the in-the-paint efficiency of the shot selection, but my goodness man... gotta finish those! Hollis-Jefferson ended up with nine points (and nine boards), but should have been in double digits with all those bunnies.

Oh, Fine, let’s Talk About Kawhi

Not gonna lie, it kinda sucked seeing Kawhi Leonard play against the Raptors. As much as I played it cool in the summer, and respect his decision to play where he wants... dammit, I really wanted him to come back to Toronto. And seeing how good and fun this team is without him, just makes me realize that yeah, the Raptors really would have been in great position to repeat as NBA Champions if he'd come back.

That said... it was pretty great to see the Raptors lock him down so well. He nearly ended up with the bad kind of quadruple double — 12 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists but nine turnovers. Mad respect to Nick Nurse for turning everything he learned about Kawhi from coaching him for one year against him last night.

(I have no doubt Kawhi's computer brain is spending the next month coming up with counters though, and he’d probably gonna drop 45 on the Raps in December.)

Also, mad respect to all the Raptors fans that made it out to Staples last night, and made it feel like the game was being played in Detroit or something. Kawhi probably doesn’t care, but he’s never gonna get that kinda traveling fandom playing for the dang Clippers.

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That was an incredibly entertaining back-to-back, against two of the best teams in the league, and I think the Raptors have put everyone on notice: they’re the champs, and you’re not gonna take them down, even shorthanded, without a fight.