Raptors vs. Kwahi Leonard Chapter 1 didn’t disappoint20 de Noviembre de 2019 a las 14:06
Photo courtesy of Chris Carlson, AP
By Eduardo Harari
Toronto. – The Raptors arrived at the Staples Center full of confidence and all though a bit injured wanting to show their ex-teammate the error he made during the summer. Coming of a huge victory the previous evening against the NBA leading L.A. Lakers, Toronto was in cloud 9 looking to show why they are the defending NBA Champions.
Facing their former teammate wasn’t going to be an easy task but the Raptors held Leonard to a 2-11 night and an unprecedented nine turnover performance. These made the bench of the Clippers having to react and another former Raptor, Lou Williams having to carry the load with 21 points as the L.A. Clippers took Chapter One of the season 98 – 88.
“We went obviously full guns on all the coverages on him to make life difficult for him and we did a good job on him,” said Nurse. “But he got some good transition buckets in the fourth, made some big shots for them when they needed them, which is what he does.”
Leonard finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to go with those nine turnovers, prompting Clippers coach Doc Rivers to joke about "almost a quadruple-double."
Photo courtesy of NBA.com
During the Pre-game press scrum, Doc Rivers was talking about blood transfusions, he was being metaphorical – or at least we thought.
The Clippers head coach was asked about the relationship that Kawhi Leonard would have with his former Toronto Raptors teammates, having won a championship together.
“He has a different bond with them,” said Rivers.
“He danced in the locker room. That’s a rarity, that you have an opportunity to do that with guys. That group, whoever was on that team, it’s like a blood transfusion. They’ll be connected for the rest of their lives with that team and with that city, no matter what you do or where you go, that’s just the way it is.”
But ahead of the Raptors’ first game against their old teammate since he left them in free agency this past summer, you had to wonder if Rivers was being a little more literal.
Less than two minutes into the game, Pascal Siakam found OG Anunoby deep in the paint on route to the hoop. Notwithstanding Leonard was waiting for the opportune moment to force the turnover and change the momentum of the game.
He stripped the ball, knocking to the floor and sending the Clippers the other way on a fast break.
Photo courtesy of Chris Carlson, AP
The only problem in the play was that Leonard scratched Anunoby across the face, poking him in the eye, leaving him on the floor and gushing blood from the eye. Anunoby, who is enjoying a great start to his season, had to leave the game and was unable to return with his eye swollen shut.
After the play, Kwahi showed extreme concern for his old teammate.
“He just cut down the lane, I went for the steal and ended up hitting him in the face,” said Leonard afterward. “I ended up getting the ball and going down (the other way). I hope he’s OK, though, I’m going to text him and see how he’s feeling.”
Not great was the only answer. Anunoby was last seen leaving Staples Center with a bandage over his left eye with plans to see an ophthalmologist in Los Angeles on Tuesday before the Raptors leave for Portland, their next stop on their five-game road trip.
Certainly, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t happy about losing his best defensive player so soon – and with no foul being called on the play to boot.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, AP
“Guy lost both his contacts and cut his eye open with blood,” said Nurse. “Are you kidding me?”
With this addition the Raptors now have Kyle Lowry (thumb), Serge Ibaka (ankle), Pat McCaw (knee) and Anunoby, but the Raptors were fine with that. They came to play hard, to complete an improbable sweep – winning back-to-back games against the co-favorites to capture the NBA title Leonard won with the Raptors in his single season in Toronto.
The Raptors pushed Leonard’s Clippers to the limit. Down four with just over a minute left, they had two chances at the rim that didn’t go – a Siakam layup that rolled in and out and a Chris Boucher drive that got blocked by a fingernail.
The Raptors eventually fell 98-88 to drop to 7-3 on the season and 2-1 on their road trip but could only have grown in the eyes of anyone that watched.
“Our guys played their guts out, we totally outplayed them, I thought,” said Nurse. “We were playing harder, we were executing better, we were creating a lot of problems for them, just not quite enough.”
Everyone chipped in. There wasn’t much choice, given the walking wounded.
A Matt Thomas three-ball late in the third and then a runner at the buzzer had the Raptors leading L.A.’s “other” team 78-73. Stranger still? Thomas, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Boucher all had more points than Leonard.
Even down the stretch, the Raptors’ harassment of their old teammate wouldn’t stop. They pressed him at the three-point line and drove him into traffic where more often than not, big Marc Gasol was waiting to help. Nothing was easy.
The Raptors were trying to duplicate the success they had enjoyed on Sunday night. Once again, Nurse dug into his bag of tricks, junking up defenses, doubling liberally, forcing non-superstars to beat his star-free roster.
Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports
All eight players who saw the floor – other than Anunoby – scored at least five points, none more than Siakam’s 16, as the Raptors were held to 40 per cent shooting, but still had a chance down the stretch.
The most remarkable numbers? Fred VanVleet and Siakam playing 45 and 44 minutes, respectively, on the second night of a back-to-back. Everything was left on the floor.
The story was somewhat different than in their previous contest. Defensively they were everywhere, flying around, blocking shots at the three-point line or closing the lane to stop Leonard.
It looked as if Boucher never left the building as he continued his scoring spree, hitting on his first three shots, including a pair of threes for eight first-quarter points to go along with a steal and a block. The Raptors held the Clippers to 6-of-21 shooting from the floor in the quarter and led 23-15. Boucher’s foul trouble limited him to 22 minutes and finished with five fouls which could be a big difference in the outcome.
There wasn’t much the Raptors could do about another former teammate, Lou Williams – who won the NBA’s Sixth Man Award during his one season with the Raptors – as he snaked his way to 14 first-half points.
The Raptors were spreading it around: of the eight players that hit the floor, all scored at least one bucket before half.
Rivers mentioned: “They’re a confident team. I call it the championship rub. You win a title and can lose five guys … (and) guys believe they can win. Because they have won, and they know how to win together. So, you see them playing that way as a group.
“You can’t break that. They can be down 20 and you’re not going to break that confidence. You have to keep fighting against teams like that.”
Leonard may have drawn first blood, but his former teammates proved that they have plenty of heart. Championship heart.
But then again, Leonard knew that.
It was a sequence you had to see to believe.
The Raptors got all the stops, but defense only counts for so much when you can’t come up with the board. Six offensive rebounds they surrendered on that trip, and somehow didn’t give up a single point.
Watch the Raptors over and over, though, and you start to get the feeling they know exactly where to plant the flags — that the misses are by design. Toronto, through 10 games, has lost three games and all of them on the road. When they trailed the Milwaukee Bucks by 26, they chipped away at the lead with stop after stop. Yes, Kyle Lowry was magnificent on that night, but limiting the Bucks to 49 in the second half after surrendering 66 first-half points opened the door for the shock that was on the cards till the final few minutes. In Boston, it was the 38.5 field goal percentage they limited the Celtics to that never let their opponent get away.
Here, against the Los Angeles Clippers with no Kyle Lowry, no Serge Ibaka, no OG Anunoby after he was poked in the eye by Kawhi in the first quarter, the defense wouldn’t relent. With under two minutes remaining, despite an offence deprived of opportunities and player movement as a result of fatigue, the Raptors were still right there. They collected 10 points in the final 12 minutes, and if either Siakam or Chris Boucher had converted at the rim with a minute remaining, Toronto would have been within two and hunting down another stop.
Most of what the Raptors accomplished was courtesy the brilliant execution of Nick Nurse’s defensive scheme to trap Leonard in multiple ways, trusting his players to close out the perimeter when they had to, and Marc Gasol or Chris Boucher to contest on the drive.
Leading the way with the defensive duties of Leonard was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who filled in outstandingly after Anunoby left the game. Leonard is one of the strongest forwards in the league, but the Raptors forward managed a way to beat him to his spots, keep his hands active, and also use his centre of gravity to play stronger.