That was a tough loss to watch last night — maybe one of the toughest losses to watch all year. The Toronto Raptors were up 94-88 on the Los Angeles Clippers last night with 5:30 to go, with the ball. The Clippers looked ragged. The Raptors looked in sync, on a 10-0 run.
But Khem Birch — who’d had an excellent fourth — missed short J. Ivica Zubac made a dunk in traffic the other way, Marcus Morris hit a three and then a short turnaround and the Raptors were on their heels.
Alas, it was an entertaining game and that’s pretty much all we can ask for at this point in this dreadful season.
1. This Starting Lineup?
I love that Yuta Watanabe got the start last night; he should have started for OG Anunoby on Sunday night too.
But I was pretty surprised to see Stanley Johnson starting too! Why not start Yuta at the small forward and Malachi Flynn at one of the guard spots, besides Fred VanVleet?
I guess you can argue that Nick Nurse wanted to split up his only two paint guards… but he’s started Flynn for Lowry and for VanVleet before.
So I don’t get it. I’d rather give both Flynn and Watanabe the development time, rather than Johnson!
(Which isn’t a knock on Johnson. He was solid! And the Raptors had a chance to win this one! But still.)
2. VanVleet On
Knowing how strong of a defender Kawhi Leonard is, I took a lot of joy in seeing him get screened by Khem Birch, freeing Fred VanVleet for a triple. You just know that Kawhi saw Freddy with that little bit of space and knew the triple was going down.
In the third, Fred managed to split Leonard and Ivica Zubac on a screen and dish to Siakam for a dunk.
VanVleet finished with 27 points and 13 assists.
It was really rewarding last year, seeing the Raptors have such a great post-Kawhi season — you really had to wonder if Leonard had any regrets about leaving. This year? Probably not so much! But I feel pretty certain that, playing along side Reggie Jackson and Patrick Beverley, he misses playing with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
3. Yes, Yuta
I enjoyed Yuta’s two triples in the first half, but as usual, it’s his defense that continues to impress. He let Paul George blow by him early which wasn’t great to see, but in the second, he drew Reggie Jackson on a switch and stymied him as Jackson tried to dribble past him. Jackson then got the ball back and had to settle for a fadeaway three as Yuta cut him off.
What more can you say about Yuta? He’s got the size, the defensive chops and footspeed, and he’s a decent shooter too. If he can make that three with greater consistency, he should have a long NBA career ahead of him
4. Patrick Beverly is Exhausting
I’d love it if the NBA legislated the “I’m going to be hyper-aggressive because they won’t call a foul every time” type of defense preferred by players like Patrick Beverly.
But you know what I loved? Seeing Malachi Flynn’s calm and patience when Beverley was trying to intimidate him with this usual Beverley bullshit. Late in the third, Beverley was up on Flynn as the clock wound down, and Flynn waited for his screen, protecting the ball with his off arm, and then going around the screen — and straight up into his jump shot to draw a foul on Beverley.
That’s some veteran savvy!
5. Malachi + Jalen
It was pretty cool to see Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris share the backcourt for a few minutes last night. Is that the backcourt of the future? Could be!
Now, there’s still a lot of development to come before these two can lead a team. But the Raptors finished dead even with Harris and Flynn on the floor together, and scored 21 points in their nine minutes. Not bad! Harris finished with 11, including this acrobatic layup:
Nice use of his size and athleticism there! Flynn and Harris later connected for a triple as the third quarter wound down.
That’s not even mentioning Harris’ excellent defense last night as well, as he did an admirable job locking down both Reggie Jackson and Rajon Rondo in different matchups.
So the Raptors finish their big road trip 1-3, and here’s a fun stat for you: The Raptors lost the three games by a combined total of 19 points... and were a combined -21 across the three fourth quarters.
This team clearly has some work to do when it comes to closing games!