Toronto Raptors: Three takeaways from well-rounded win vs Clippers

Toronto Raptors - Serge Ibaka (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Serge Ibaka (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors dispatched the Los Angeles Clippers in a comfortable fashion on Sunday afternoon. What did we learn from the game, though?

The Toronto Raptors welcomed the Los Angeles Clippers to the Scotiabank Arena, in what the Clippers could well have viewed as an audition for Kawhi Leonard, as they look to remain a prime destination for Leonard this off-season. Hopefully, the result may deter Leonard, but we shall see.

Kyle Lowry was ruled out of the game earlier in the day due to back soreness, and maybe rest was necessary for Lowry who had been looking hot and cold for the last few weeks. Fred VanVleet was accosted back into the starting lineup, his twentieth start of the season, VanVleet had looked comfortable in most of these starts and was looking to keep the momentum rolling.

The game started without much aplomb, both teams trading baskets back and forth, particularly Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kawhi Leonard, who both traded strong and-one finishes. Kawhi demonstrated his sheer strength while SGA provided a little more finesse en route to the basket.

The Raptors built up and eight-point lead midway through the first, first, Fred VanVleet picked out a wide-open Danny Green with a nice outlet pass before Green returned the favor, finding Fred with a sweet cross-court pass for an open three-pointer. Toronto was on a 15-2 run and rolling thanks to the nice ball movement.

Lou Williams undoubtedly appeared to some life back into the Clippers before the end of the quarter, scoring six points on a 12-0 run for the L.A. second unit, the Raptors failed to score for nearly four minutes. Coincidentally, the bench rotation started around the period.

C.J. Miles started the second quarter with a nice catch-and-shoot three, returning to the line-up after a short hiatus. His first three was shortly followed up by his second, and what a relief it was. The Raptors were on fire in the second quarter, racking up 42 points and stretching their lead out at half-time to 14 points.

The Raptors bench responded in a big way in the third quarter, making up for the sins on their sloppy first quarter. Delon Wright, OG Anunoby and even Greg Monroe getting on the score sheet, the Raptors held the Clippers to 16-percent shooting from three in the whole game, on a bizarre 12 attempts. You can’t win games in the NBA if you’re only attempting 12 threes, not in this era.

Toronto’s three-point shooting wasn’t the difference, they only shoot 27-percent from downtown but the volume of threes certainly played into their advantage, shooting 33 times. The difference was the defense for the Raptors, particularly the performance of the bench in the second half. The second unit forced turnovers and as a result, they pushed the ball hard in transition and kept the Clippers reeling. The starters never saw the court in the fourth quarter, an indication of how comfortable the bench unit was, and the Raptors prevailed 121-103 to improve to 38-16 on the season.

Here are my three takeaways from the cruise control victory.

1. Gosh Darn, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

He might have ended up on the losing side but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander still managed to put in a solid shift against the Raptors.

SGA had a game-high 19 points on an efficient 9-15 shooting from the field and added five rebounds and a trio of assists to boot. He showed his ability to pass and score out of the post, something that’s very impressive for a guard, even if he is a tall one at that.

Gilgeous-Alexander looked comfortable in the midrange and while he didn’t attempt a three-pointer (hardly anyone in a black jersey did), he should be able to stretch his game out beyond the three-point line to add another wrinkle to an, already, impressive repertoire.

Not his greatest defensive performance, SGA still attributed to two blocks and a steal and looks to have the potential to become an All-NBA defender with his combination of size, length, and lateral quickness. The Clippers hit the mark with this pick.

2. A Rejuvenated Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka tallied his sixth-consecutive double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but some of them have felt a bit empty and flat, lacking any real substance beyond the numbers.

It’s good to see Serge committed to rebounding the ball hard and on both ends of the court. Ibaka had five offensive rebounds and is averaging three offensive boards in this six-game stretch, but last night was his best game for a while.

Ibaka put in a strong defensive shift, despite being matched up against the highly energetic Montrezl Harrell and the tallest man alive, Boban Marjanovic. Credited with one block, Ibaka looked a lot more athletic than in recent games, swatting a floater out of bounds.

The Raptors need this version of Ibaka if they want to have a good string of games without the resting Lowry, he still found his shot from midrange and had 16 points, including an aforementioned three-pointer, his first in nine games. A strong showing from Serge.

3. Bench unit provide a necessary spark

There’s life in this underwhelming unit yet, it seems.

The bitterly disappointing Raptors bench unit finally sparked into life against the Los Angeles Clippers. The bench outscored the Clippers bench 59-45 and after a woeful first few minutes in the game, they really turned the game around and proved to be the difference in the game.

After such an incredible year last season, the bench is still coming to grips with Pascal Siakam moving to the starting line-up and the departure of Jakob Poeltl among other things, the bench has noticeably regressed and cost the Raptors their fair share of games this season.

However, with at least five Raptors scoring six-plus points off of the bench, it looks like they could finally be turning a corner. C.J. Miles continued his three-point renaissance and Delon Wright looked to continue his upturn in form too, even Greg Monroe was a positive impact.

The bench needs to start helping the starting unit more often, last night was a good sign though.

Next. Where does Kawhi rank in the M.V.P race?. dark

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