It looked ugly at first. Really, really ugly… but somehow, the Toronto Raptors found a way to snag one of the more notable victories of the season up to this point, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 123-107. At one point early on in this game, the Clippers led 30-10. That’s right, the Raptors were down 20 in the opening frame. The game appeared to be over before the end of the first frame, but then Toronto suddenly clicked. The team began to fire on all cylinders, generating easier shots and coming away with defensive stops in succession. The run during the second quarter cut the lead to just two points at halftime. After the break, the Raptors continued to put the pressure on the Clippers – who were blown out in Cleveland last night – eventually taking the lead and never looking back. Maybe it was the unusual 7 o’clock start to the game that caused the Raps to stumble out of the gates— after 7:30PM, the Toronto outscored Los Angeles 115-84. This could be mere coincidence, but one thing is certain: the Raptors needed a win, and they were able to come away with one versus a quality team from the Western Conference.
How about that post-first quarter offensive approach? After the horrid start riddled with turnovers and poor shot selection, the Raptors came to their senses and executed quite well for the remainder of the game. I’ll take 25 assists on 40 made field goals any day of the week. 11 turnovers— solid. Ditto for 30 for 37 from the charity stripe and 13 for 30 from beyond the arc. The team effort on offense was solid tonight. Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams, and James Johnson combined for 45 points off the bench, outscoring their Clipper counterparts by 16. James Johnson in particular was absolutely HUGE, going 7 for 7 from the floor, seemingly getting to the rim whenever he wanted to. 2Pat & Sweet Lou were up to their usual tricks, providing adequate floor spacing and making their open looks. They combined to shoot 6 for 12 from downtown.
As for the starters, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry led the way with 24 and 21 points respectively. Greivis Vasquez chipped in with 17. Although Lowry only walked away with a single assist to show for tonight’s game, DeRozan made up for it, carrying most of the load from a distribution aspect. DeRozan almost came away with his first career triple double in this one, dishing out eight assists and grabbing nine rebounds to compliment his 24 point night.
You’ll quickly realize that the theme of tonight’s post-game report card is the night and day performance of the Raptors before and after the opening frame. Something clicked with Toronto after the first intermission. The switches were much better, the communication improved, and most importantly, the intensity level was cranked up a few notches. Amir Johnson, James Johnson, and Patrick Patterson all did their part in ensuring that the Clippers bigs wouldn’t come away with the easy looks they were able to generate early on. Blake Griffin still had a huge night statistically, but in the grand scheme of things, the emphasis on protecting the paint ultimately changed the direction of the game. The perimeter defense of the Raptors (after the first quarter) wasn’t half bad either. After getting anything they wanted in the first 12 minutes, the Clippers offense slowed down drastically, and the team simply couldn’t get enough to keep up with the Raptors after the momentum shift.
Anytime you can limit DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to a combine 13 rebounds, you win. The test was imposing, but the Raptors found a way to get past it, winning the battle of the boards 42-30. Again, it was a team effort, as six Raptors came away with four or more rebounds. Lost in all of this is the fact that the Clippers only came away with seven offensive rebounds in this one. That’s it. It goes to show that unlike the two previous outings, the Raptors were actually finishing their defensive possessions tonight.
Game Ball – DeMar DeRozan & James Johnson
Sharing is caring. If the entire Atlanta Hawks starting lineup can take home the Eastern Conference “player” of the month award for January, there’s no reason why we can’t have two players be awarded the coveted Raptors Cage game ball tonight. #newrules.