I am not going to go blow for blow in the 1st half because it was just that bad. The Clippers jumped out to a quick 11-6 lead before the Raptors went on a rest-of-the-half 57-23 stretch. The only reason the Clippers kept it close at all early was due to the play of JJ Redick, who had a dozen points in the first quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a dunk or two, but nobody else could get anything going. The Raptors meanwhile scored time and again, getting whatever looks they wanted and drawing numerous fouls in the process.
The second quarter was even worse. The bench was listless and looked completely out of sync. Doc tried the little used Luc Mbah Moute, and even though he had some energy on defense, his lack of playing time showed in his inability to play in the offense. Jamal Crawford was missing shots, Austin Rivers was missing shots, and the Clippers didn't make a field goal for over 7 minutes. The Raptors just kept plugging away, mostly through Luis Scola and DeMarre Carroll, who were their two best players today. If the Raptors missed, they would get an offensive rebound and score again. Doc got so desperate that he put in Lance Stephenson, much to the delight of the crowd and Clippers twitter. Sadly, Lance picked up 3 fouls in 5 minutes and only contributed 1 steal. He made several nice cuts to the rim, but Chris Paul's passes were to the corner, which is where Paul Pierce or Redick would normally be. More playing time would have helped in those situations. In the meantime, the Raptors' lead grew and grew, and by halftime the Clippers were in an extraordinary 29 point deficit.
To their credit, the Clippers fought back. It was all about the defense, as they limited the Raptors to only 8 points in the 3rd quarter. CP3 and then Austin were very aggressive in picking up and defending the Toronto point guards, who were unable to get into their sets. For most of the quarter the Raptors' lead was still hovering at around 24 for one simple reason: the Clippers couldn't do anything on offense either. The bench unit of Rivers-Jamal-Wes Johnson- Josh Smith- DJ finally started getting not only stops, but turnovers as well. This in turn lead to fastbreaks and several wide open dunks. The lead was down to 16 and the Clippers had all the momentum going into the fourth quarter.
That same bench unit started the quarter and absolutely dominated the Raptors' bench, who just couldn't do anything on offense (they didn't score from 11:34 to 6:31). Blake Griffin came in for DJ at the 10 minute mark and the chipping away continued, but the Clippers offense was still too ineffective to make up ground quickly. The closest they ever reached was at the 7:30 mark when Wes drained a 3 after a gorgeous defensive stop and Austin assist. Around that time the Raptors put their starters back in, the lead went up to 10, and it remained in that range for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Doc went with a CP3-Jamal-JJ-Blake-DJ lineup for the rest of the contest, which was a little questionable because of how cold Jamal was. The Clippers defense remained tight, but their terrible shooting down the stretch killed them, and they never closed the gap.
Awful Shooting: The Clippers were abysmal on offense, shooting at a 39% clip from the field and 21 from three. The Raptors were somehow worse, as they put up marks of 37.2 and 23.5 (on way fewer three attempts). The Clippers primary guards off the bench, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford, were 4-16 from the field and 0-9 from three. It was horrible all around offense, especially in the 2nd half when the Raptors joined the Clippers in a general inability to throw a rock into the ocean. The only Clippers' players to shoot 50% or better from the field were Wes, DJ, and Mbah Moute (1-1).
A Slow Blake Griffin: There were no injury reports on Blake and he was a full go, but he never looked right in this game. His left leg injury from Portland was probably still bothering him as he was passive attacking the basket and on the glass. Blake was slow enough that Luis Scola- age 35 and never the fleetest of foot- took him off the dribble multiple times. Hopefully another day or two off gets him somewhat healthier, because Blake playing at an MVP level was the one thing going right with this season so far.
Clippers' Killers: Speaking of Luis Scola, he was absolutely murderous tonight. He only had 20 and 8 on 8-16 shooting, but every time he scored it either stopped a Clippers run or piled on top of them at the end of the shot clock. DeAndre seemed very hesitant to leave the paint against him, yet Scola's most lasting specialty has been his great midrange jumper. There must have been a bad scouting report, or DJ was very unaware of who he was guarding. The other Toronto hero/Clipper villain was DeMarre Carroll, who poured in 21 in the 1st half and was everywhere on defense. He was kept under wraps in the 2nd half, but continued to make plays, whether through steals, drawing offensive fouls, or getting offensive rebounds. He would look amazing in a Clippers jersey, I can say that much.
Good Bench Play: Well, good play in the 2nd half anyway. The key to the Clippers run was a three man bench squad of Austin-Wes-Josh (along with DJ) who played tight defense and got out in transition for easy buckets. The difference in athleticism between them and the starters was amazing, as the Raptors were unable to get open at all and struggled to get shots off. The bad news is that the bench was not any better at scoring the ball, as Josh joined Jamal and Austin in terrible shooting nights. A special shout out to Wesley Johnson, however, who made 2 of 3 actual three point attempts (the other two were end of quarter heaves), and has been the Clippers' best wing player so far this season. All three of these guys need more minutes.
Paul Pierce: I want Pierce to get a few games off. Yes, it is early in the season and he isn't injured, but he just looks slow and hesitant right now, and some time away from the court might help. He was 0-2 tonight in 19 minutes, contributing a mere two points and one rebound in that span. The Truth appeared to be cooked, as DeMarre Carroll roasted him on defense time and again for easy baskets (as he did last year in the Wizards-Hawks playoff series by the way). As mentioned ad nauseum, Pierce was brought here for the playoffs and his locker room presence. I am sure he is a positive influence in the locker room, but his minutes right now are not good for the team. Wes has been an unequivocally better player so far and should be in the starting lineup, or at least get a lot more minutes.
DJ Comes Back: DJ was inconsistent, but his high points were magnificent. He switched onto Kyle Lowry one on one in the 4th quarter and forced him out of bounds after staying with him for several jukes and dribbles; just one of several instances of superb defense. He had 5 blocks, and should have had another on a poor goaltending call in the first quarter. DJ also collected 15 rebounds and skied for some over Bismack Biyombo and Scola. It was a nice effort, and his contributions at the pivot were crucial for the bench units run in the late 3rd and early 4th quarters.
Point Guard Matchup Disappoints (on offense): Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry were both poor today, neither making a good percentage of shots or having a real impact on the game. Paul still doesn't appear to be 100% healthy, but he was very good defensively on Lowry, especially in the 2nd half, and his shooting is suffering more than anything else. Lowry was off tonight, and looked bothered by Paul and Austin Rivers at times. It was a mediocre showing for two of the better point guards in the NBA so far this season.
Doc Rivers: The Clippers started extremely flat in this one and remained that way for an entire half. To what extent that is on the coach vs the players is a debate as long-lasting as the NBA. To give credit, the Clippers did come out strong in the 2nd half, and I liked Doc's rotations better tonight than previous nights. I also approved of him trying Lance and Mbah Moute. I do hope the rotation permanently changes though, with more of Austin, Wes, and Josh Smith, and less of Jamal and Pierce.
On to the Next One: The Clippers play Tuesday night at Denver, and every day off gets Blake and Chris closer to full health. The Nuggets play fast under rookie PG Emmanuel Mudiay, and the Clippers will need to bring full effort, especially on the defensive end. After that the Clippers have a six game home stretch with only one back to back. They will need to do very well on that stand in order to make up ground in a shaky Western Conference.