You need an awfully good first half to get away with scoring 28 second half points on the road against a title contender like the Los Angeles Clippers, so it’s a good thing that the Toronto Raptors (9-6) did just that. They built up a 29-point lead heading into the break thanks to 63 first half points on 51.2% shooting, compared to 34 Clipper points on 38.2% shooting. Despite something of a second half power outage, the visitors’ defensive effort provided just enough juice to close out a 91-80 road trip-wrapping win.
Sunday’s tale of two halves was probably best exemplified by DeMarre Carroll, who went 8-8 from the floor in the first half, only to find himself mired in an 0-5 second half slump. Still, just as the two halves added up to a win for the Raps, Carroll’s full game effort proved fruitful enough to produce a stat line of 21 points, five rebounds, four steals and a game-high +16. He was one of the key Raptors to pick up the slack in the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, along with Luis Scola (20 points on 8-16 shooting, eight rebounds) and fill-in starter Bismack Biyombo (six points, 14 rebounds). Even without JV, the Raps topped the Clippers in both rebounds 46-42 and points in the paint (36-26).
Despite some recent struggles that have seen the Clippers fall below .500 thanks to losing five of their last six, they remain stacked with battle-tested talent and depth. So it was no surprise that they surged out of the break, allowing just eight Raptor points in the third quarter to trim the lead down to 16 entering the fourth. In the final frame, they pulled to within six, but some timely defensive stops, including three Clipper turnovers in less than three minutes of crunch time, helped Toronto hold on. Now, they head home having salvaged the challenging Western swing for a 2-3 finish after starting 0-3.
Getting to the line
They couldn’t buy a shot (37.2%) or drain a three (23.5%), so the Raps continued their efficient free throw prowess on Sunday. Led by DeMar DeRozan’s 13 makes on 14 attempts, Toronto went 29 of 31 from the line, accounting for almost 1/3rd of their offense. In contrast, the Clippers made just 15 freebies on 20 attempts, taking nine fewer free throws than the Raptors made. So far this year, the DeRozan and Kyle Lowry-led free throw execution by Toronto has them ranked first league-wide in free throws attempted (28.9) and made (23.3) per game. Los Angeles, despite their fourth-place rank in free throws, couldn’t measure up on this day.
Lockdown in LA
Even with their struggles of late, no one has shut down the Clippers in quite the same way that the Raptors managed to on Sunday. In fact, their 80-point output, which only escaped the 70’s thanks to an uncontested Blake Griffin three in the game’s final seconds, marked their lowest single game point production since a 73-point effort on February 1, 2013. Their opponent that day? These same Toronto Raptors. Trivia aside, the Raps forced the Clippers into 39.2% shooting (29-74) from the floor, 21.9% shooting (7-32) from deep and 20 turnovers, including six from Griffin.
Poor lead protection
A game with a point differential of 29 at the half shouldn’t wind up as close as Sunday afternoon’s affair did. Yes, the Clippers merit some credit for playing desperate, particularly in the third quarter, but the Raptors made it all too easy on them at times. Toronto produced a meager eight points in the third with poor shooting (4-22, 18%) brought on by passive play and questionable shot selection. The club had to know that the Clippers weren’t going to lay down at home with 24 minutes still to play, so it’s hard to make sense of how a team playing with such fire in the first half came out so flat to start the second.
Scoring droughts aplenty plagued both clubs at Staples Center. Between the third and fourth quarter, the Raps endured a stretch of 9:07 without a made basket. Not to be outdone, the Clippers suffered through a 7:10 stretch without a made field goal in the second quarter.
The Clippers’ woes are a head-scratcher thus far this year. Yes. it’s still early on in the campaign and there’s plenty of time for Doc Rivers and co to turn things around. But there are no clear, easy answers for Los Angeles, who have limped out to a weak start despite enjoying relatively favourable health, particularly with regards to Chris Paul, and continue to get MVP-level production from Griffin. Off-season acquisitions Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson have yet to pan out, making a second unit that was supposed to be a strength into a liability thus far.
The Raps weren’t the only local basketball outfit to post a win on Sunday. Raptors 905 posted the first win in franchise history, beating the Maine Red Claws 96-87. Guard Scott Suggs matched his team-leading season average with 19 points in the win, including 13 in the fourth quarter. He got help from Jay Harris (18 points) and Melvin Johnson III (eight points, 12 rebounds), although none of the three men project to make much of an impact at the NBA level despite their D-League prowess.
The good news: the Raps get to return home after a draining road trip. The bad news: they are back for one game and it just so happens to feature LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night (7:30pm, TSN).
Prediction: Cavs 101, Raps 92 (record this season: 6-8)