In a game that started out very reminiscent of the 126-118 Raptors loss to the Clippers in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, this young developing team got another lesson in physical play, but this time it was in Los Angeles. Unlike in Toronto where both Patrick Patterson and DeMar DeRozan were injured, only the Raptors pride was bruised this time as they lost 118-105.
It was the Blake Griffin show in the opening quarter as the All-Star put up 19 points on 8-11 shooting overwhelming both Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas and the only thing keeping the Raptors in this game was the play of their own All-Star DeMar DeRozan who scored 12 points on 6-8 from the field. Both teams shot 55 percent or better and the Clippers opened with a 29-22 lead in a game that favored their style of play.
The Clippers upped the ante in the second quarter as they increased the pace and the Raptors simply couldn’t keep up. Lob City scored 12 fast break points in the quarter to just 2 for Toronto on their way to 38 points and a 16 point first half lead. Just like in Toronto, it was Jamaal Crawford who became the unstoppable force when Griffin wasn’t scoring as the league’s most productive sixth man (and occasional starter) scored 14 points. The Raptors did score 29 points of their own, but in many ways, that was fool’s gold.
Toronto shot 51.4 percent from the field in the first half, but they were out rebounded by 9 and had no answer for Griffin or DeAndre Jordan in the paint at either end of the court. Terrence Ross, who scored 51 points in Toronto, threw down a highlight reel dunk off an athletic drive to the hoop, but otherwise had a quiet game.
“It was a fast paced game and that’s not our style,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “But, they kind of get you in that game. If we’re scoring, that’s one thing, but we weren’t making buckets, so we were kind of at their will running at us.”
Almost immediately down 20 points to start the second half, Casey decided to break the Clippers momentum with the unpopular hack-a-Jordan strategy and it worked to perfection. The game ground to a halt as Jordan was sent to the free throw line 16 times. He made 8 of them, but Clippers shot just 25 percent for the quarter and only scored 25 points while the Raptors went on a tear behind the efforts of Kyle Lowry to score 32 points and out rebound the Clippers 14-11. Unfortunately for Toronto, their hot shooting of the first half was cooling off and they only hit on 43.5 percent of their attempts.
“We were trying to break the tide,” Casey said. We broke their rhythm and cut it to a 9 point game. We had to do something. Physically they were just man-handling us in the paint. I thought that changed the game a little bit and put ourselves in a position. We missed a lot of chippies, a lot of bunnies. The free throws were huge and normally we are better than 26 percent from three.”
In many ways, the Raptors dominated the Clippers with an ugly second half and if they could have hit their shots in the fourth quarter, this game was very winnable. Toronto continued to out rebound the Clippers in the final quarter by a 15-10 margin and held them to just 14 shots, but the Raptors went ice-cold from the field, shooting 5-25 for just 22 points, DeRozan scoring half of them on his way to a 36 point, 5 rebound and 8 assist game.
Jonas Valanciunas had an 11 point 13 rebound double-double, but he shot just 4-7 from the field a 3-9 from the free throw line and struggled throughout most of this game with the Clippers physicality. Terrence Ross had a very quiet 9 points on 3-10 shooting. Lowry finished with 19 points and 6 boards.
This was another game that got away, but Casey reminded everyone that the Raptors are a team that is still under development and learning how to play.
“We want to compete every time we walk out, but the main thing is we are building,” Casey said. “We are getting better in small areas and in some areas we are not. The physicality department, that is going to take a little more time for guys to figure that out.
“My thing is competing. You go out – compete and fight physically – and then you let the chips fall where they may. Only time and maturity is going to help certain situations.
“Everyone is talking about success and we are still a growing team, a developing team. Again, we got to keep that in mind. We get upset when we get a chance to put ourselves in a position to win, but we are still a young team, a team that is still learning, learning how to play a physical style of basketball.”
Griffin finished with 36 points and 8 rebounds. Jordan had 18 points and 13 rebounds and was 10-22 from the free throw line. Crawford added 21 points.
After the game, the message conveyed to the Raptors players was the All-Star break isn’t until next weekend and they still have business to attend to at home.
“I just told the guys, we got to go back and take care of home,” Casey said.
Toronto returns home to face the Pelicans on Monday and the Hawks on Wednesday before they break for All-Star Weekend.
The Clippers play the 76ers on Sunday and the Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
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Raptors Coach Casey Wins With All-Star Selections
This season started with speculation that Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey wasn’t new President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s guy and therefore, his tenure in Toronto would be short-lived. Nothing changed over the summer and Ujiri moved out Andrea Bargnani and brought in a bunch of look-see players on short term deals that left everyone wondering what the future held. Now with 3 Raptors players selected to represent Toronto in headline events on each day of All-Star Weekend, perhaps it’s time to stop wondering about Coach Casey’s future.