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LA Clippers v Toronto Raptors

Raptors close out 2021 with a win over the Clippers, 116-108

It was a battle of attrition between two shorthanded teams, with the Raptors’ core players mustering enough effort on both ends to pull away late in the fourth.

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors treated their fanbase (and empty arena) to a playoff-ish type of basketball to end the year, outlasting the Los Angeles Clippers in the fourth quarter, winning 116-108.

The game essentially describes the Raptors’ year-to-date: shorthanded, bad bench, poor shooting, great defensive pockets, Nick Nurse trying to throw things to the wall and see what sticks, and running his trusted core players to the ground. The core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby took turns carrying the team and delivered in the fourth quarter when things turned into playoff ball.

During the game, Fred VanVleet shook off a couple of bad shooting stretches, dropping 27 points and nine assists. In the fourth quarter, OG Anunoby had a two-way masterclass, as he swung the momentum to the Raptors’ favour just when things were going flat for them. Anunoby had a clutch three-pointer, a pick-six, a rhythm trifecta to take the lead, and another steal that led to a clear-path foul, en route to 26 points, six rebounds, and four steals.

Perhaps the unsung hero for the Raptors is Pascal Siakam. He weathered heavy legs but provided the offense early on and down the stretch. It was so fun to see Nurse go at Siakam at almost every possession, playing mismatch basketball and converting on many of them. Siakam probably posted his best game of the season - 25 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and two blocks and providing clutch possession after another.

The shorthanded Clippers looked like they were poised to steal this game away after erasing an early 15-point deficit. They had the momentum for most of the game, as the Raptors were huffing and puffing, leading to shots that were either short or not even touching the rim. Marcus Morris Sr. led the Clippers with 20 points, with Terance Mann adding 18 points and 11 rebounds. At the same time, Amir Coffey erupted early for the Clippers, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first half. The Clippers essentially missed their big man Ivica Zubac, as the Raptors outrebounded them, 54-37. They could have played former Raptor Serge Ibaka more, but Mafuzzy had a rough night on his first game back in Toronto (welcome back!).

The Raptors looked good to start the game, beginning with a well-executed set play that led to a Gary Trent Jr. corner three-pointer. The Clippers responded with back-to-back three-pointers, including Serge Ibaka’s first bucket at the Scotiabank Arena wearing a non-Raptor jersey. The Raptors went on an 18-0 run, hunting Luke Kennard on the offensive end, as they played mismatch basketball to get direct buckets, or at least collapse the Clippers defense. It was a collective effort that saw all the starters get on the scoreboard early, as they led by as much as 15.

Reggie Jackson’s three-pointer broke that run, including their own 10-straight, missed shots. The Clippers bench looked unstoppable against the Trent Jr+bench lineup, going on a 23-12 run to close the quarter, including 8 points from Amir Coffey. The Clippers closed the quarter with the momentum, despite trailing the Raptors 29-33.

The Clippers started the quarter with a quick 5-0 run, with Kennard’s three free-throws getting the Clippers on the driver seat, 34-32. It was high time for the Raptors’ coaching staff to figure out that the bench lineup doesn’t have anything early in this game, as Coffey and Justise Winslow dominated them. With Svi+starters back, it became a back-and-forth affair from here on, with the two teams exchanging leads several times.

Fred VanVleet got going offensively, scoring eight points as he started his second shift, helping the Raptors get a six-point lead. However, the Raptors started to look heavy on their legs as they finished the quarter shooting 1-for-12, allowing the Clippers to go on a 13-2 run to close the half, leading 62-56.

The Raptors opened the second half with a much better defense than how they ended the previous one, holding the Clippers to four points in the first four minutes of the half. Unfortunately, most of the Raptors’ shots were short. Still, they found some rhythm when they targeted Ibaka in the mid/short-range, nailing three-straight shots on their former teammate. The Raptors aggressive defense prevented the Clippers from pulling away. Instead, it was enough to help them tie the game at 77, with VanVleet going coast-to-coast for a layup against multiple Clippers defenders.

The Raptors failed to capitalize on the Clippers’ early penalty situation. Instead, the Raptors fell flat again, missing layups and wide-open shots, as the spry Clippers went on a 10-3 run to take the lead. The Clippers closed the quarter with an 87-82 lead.

Nick Nurse likes to throw a curveball whenever the team is in a rut, and the Raptors need a game-changer or two. He had Dalano Banton and Justin Champagnie starting the fourth quarter to potentially play that role. Nurse’s game plan for the final frame is simple - put your head down and get to the basket, as the Clippers will surely foul.

However, it was OG Anunoby’s ability to hit shots in distress that brought them close again, hitting a grenade three-pointer. A “pick-six” a couple of plays later got the Raptors within 91-90, forcing the Clippers to call a timeout early. But he’s not done; Champagnie found Anunoby shot-ready for a three-pointer, giving the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter, leading 93-91. Anunoby, ready to take over, got in the passing lane again, leading to a clear-path foul. Terance Mann found Jackson on the perimeter for a drive-and-kick, tying the game at 94.

The game shifted into a bit of a playoff atmosphere, as both teams trade basket playing mismatch basketball. Marcus Morris Sr was hunting VanVleet and Trent Jr, while Siakam feasted on Jackson on the other. VanVleet found Siakam slipping for a dunk, putting the Raptors up 109-105 with 94 seconds remaining, but Mann responded with a trifecta. VanVleet took Morris Sr to the cup to bring the lead back to three, and the Raptors clamped the Clippers on the other end with Coffey hoisting an airball from behind the arc. The shift in momentum allowed the Raptors to set up a Siakam/VanVleet pick-and-pop with VanVleet delivering the dagger from the perimeter.

The Raptors end the calendar year with a 15-17 record for this season, and based on their last two games, this team could be trending up if they get more of their key players back and back to form. They host the New York Knicks at home this Sunday, and a win could potentially make them switch spots, with the Raptors ending up in the 10th spot.

Raptors open training camp September 26, preseason games in Edmonton and Montreal

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