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Raptors 122 - Clippers 110

Let's start off by pointing out that these are not your father's Toronto Raptors.  Actually, the Raptors have only existed for 12 seasons, so your father didn't have Raptors, but you get the point.  With nine new players on the roster, and four new starters, Toronto basically started over around Chris Bosh this summer.  The fact that they also extended the Eastern Conference's starting All Star power forward makes it a Tom Cruise off-season.  Think about it:  

  1. Jorge Garbajosa, starter, signed as a free agent from the Spanish league.  
  2. Anthony Parker, starter, signed as a free agent from the Israeli league.
  3. Rasho Nesterovic, starter, acquired this summer in a trade with the Spurs.
  4. T.J. Ford, splits time with Jose Calderon, acquired this summer in a trade with the Bucks.
Throw in number 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, their first big off the bench, and five of their top nine players are in the first year with the team, and Calderon and Joey Graham are in their second year.  

With this win over the Clippers, they are two games over .500 for the first time this season.  Probably the first time in franchise history for all my dad knows.  OK, I looked it up... they opened the 04-05 season 3-0.  But it is the first time they've been 2 games over .500 in the second half of the season since 42-40 in 2002.  Consider also that they began this season 2-8 while they were getting to know each other, and then lost Bosh for 12 games in December.  Since Bosh's return, and with a couple of months of playing together, they are 12-5, the best record in the Eastern Conference since January 1.

Still, I thought with the extra motivation of avenging a bad December loss, that the Clippers would win this game.  It turns out to be difficult to win when you allow your opponent to shoot 80% in the first quarter, 70% in the first half, and 59% for the game.  Add in Toronto's 12 makes on 20 three point attempts, and their eFG% for the game was an otherworldly 66.7%.  

Was it bad Clipper defense?  Well, it wasn't good defense.  But sometimes the other guys just make shots.  On the entire team, only Calderon shot below 50% (3 for 7) and he had 12 assists.  So there was no one on the floor to help off of.  With Calderon and Ford breaking down the defense with dribble penetration, and everyone else making open shots, it seemed to me a case of really good offense as opposed to really bad defense.  Don't get me wrong - the Clippers were not good defensively.  But they weren't that bad.

When the Clippers switched and put Elton Brand on Bosh in the second half, that was the one matchup they won on the defensive end.  After shooting 7 for 10 in the first half, Bosh was 3 for 10 against EB in the second.  Unfortunately, the rest of the Raptors remained just as hot - hotter from beyond the arc.

Amazingly, the Clippers would have been right in this game, despite Toronto's hot shooting, if they'd been better from the free throw line (21-31) or if Chris Kaman (1-11) or Corey Maggette (2-10) could have made some shots.  

After showing some signs of returning to form in early January, Kaman once again can not make anything.  A 52% shooter last season, he opened this season shooting 40% in November, and 45% in December.  Then he hit 51% of his shots in the first 12 games of January, and everyone said, ah yes, he likes the traditional ball (© Michael Smith).  Well, he's 8 for 29 (28%) in the last 5 games, bringing him right back down to 46% with the traditional ball (© Michael Smith), so there goes that theory.  Just as was the case at the beginning of the year, he's making good moves and taking shots that he made last year - they're just not going in the bucket.  It's got to be frustrating for Chris, but he doesn't help his cause when he gets an offensive rebound 4 feet from the basket and shoots a 10 foot fall away (10:17 of the first) or gets an offensive rebound alone under the basket and shoots a left handed flip instead of dunking the ball (3:38 of the first).

In this game, Kaman made his second shot, and Maggette made two of his first three.  That means that Kaman missed 9 straight to close the game, and Maggette missed 7 straight.  That makes it a little tougher to come back.

On the positive side, Brand continues to play well (8 for 15, 21 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks), although he should not have to get 5 offensive rebounds just to get 15 shots.  By the way, I've never thought of EB as a great on ball defender, but he's about to change my mind.  He's turning into one of the best defenders at the power forward position in the league.  Cat Mobley had his second straight strong game, and Tim Thomas played really well for the third straight time.  After making 5 of 8 threes in this game, Cat is now at 41% on the season.  With Sam Cassell at 42% with the traditional ball (© Michael Smith) and Thomas a legitimate threat as well, the Clippers three point shooting no longer looks like such a liability.  

All in all, given the way that Toronto is playing right now, you can't really put this into the bad loss category, not like the first Raptors game.  Still, if the goal is 4-3 on this road trip, they're going to have to beat a team with a winning record at some point with games at Cleveland, Indiana and Detroit still to come.  And let's face it - a road win against a decent team is the least they have to do if they want to be taken seriously as a playoff team.  After Minnesota and Denver both lost Saturday night, this was an opportunity to solidify their position in the 7th position in the West.  Instead, they're back to 8.  Consider this an opportunity lost.