The game began very well, with the Clippers making shots and playing good defense. Chris Paul was hounding Kyle Lowry on one end and picking apart the Raptors defense on the other. DJ was getting open shots, Luc Mbah a Moute was fed for an easy bucket, and JJ Redick made his first several jumpers. The Clippers were up 30-18, the reserves started coming in, and things went downhill from there. The Raptors made a small push at the end of the quarter to cut the lead to seven, but they were just getting started.
The Clippers tried going to the bench well of Pablo Prigioni-Cole Aldrich pick and rolls, but the Raptors were ready for it and picked off or deterred pass after pass. This lead to several easy transition baskets going the other way, and the Raptors took the lead at the 9:18 mark. The Clippers would not have a lead the rest of the game. Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson combined for another quick eight points, and Doc was forced to bring the starters back into the game. While Chris Paul was able to get the offense going a little bit, JJ was cold, and the Raptors continued to score at a steady rate. Thus, by halftime, the Clippers were down 13, having been outscored 35-15 in the 2nd quarter.
The third quarter was a combination of the first and second. The Clippers' starters immediately began plugging away at the deficit, and got the lead all the way down to a mere four points halfway through the quarter. Sadly, Kyle Lowry took over from there, and pushed the lead back to double figures in just a couple of minutes. As the bench trickled back in for the Clippers, their good looks dwindled and the Raptors' increased. Austin was missing shots, Jamal was missing shots, and the Raptors were getting open looks time and again.
The fourth quarter was doomed from the get go. Doc left in the same bench unit that had been awful all night against the Raptors bench + Lowry, and the lead jumped to 18 by the time the starters returned. With the Clippers playing as they were on the road against as strong a squad as the Raptors, they had virtually no chance at a comeback, and this time the starters made no impact. Even a rare Lance Stephenson sighting failed to ignite the team, as he mixed good and bad plays equally. At the 4:58 mark, Doc pulled the plug, and the deep reserves checked in. The only notable occurrence in that home stretch was Jeff Ayres scoring his first points as a Clipper at the 1:09 mark by draining two free throws. The Raptors' lead remained large, and they ended up winning by 112-94.
Bench Disaster: It's hard to put into words how bad the Clippers' bench was tonight. Awful. Atrocious. Vomit-inducing. Those don't quite do it justice. Pablo Prigioni was an amazing -23 in just 8 minutes, while Austin and Jamal finished at -28 and -33 in 19 minutes respectively. The reserves were outscored 51-21 by the Raptors' bench, and it honestly seemed worse than that. Doc was a bit handtied by the lack of Blake, but having a pure bench lineup going against the terrific Raptors' backup unit and Kyle Lowry was just an egregious mistake. One of Redick, DJ, or CP3 needed to be playing in that time, and they weren't. The bench turned the ball over, took awful shots, and did not seem like they could stop the Raptors at any point. This was the nadir of the new bench unit, and let's hope it remains that way.
CP3 Continues to Dazzle: While this wasn't an amazing night by the Point God, he was still by far the best player on the Clips, and every time he was taken out of the game they bled points. Paul finished with a 23/4/11 line on pretty good shooting, and also did a solid job on Kyle Lowry when matched against him. He was the only Clipper who even approached greatness on a night they needed it from at least three or four players. DJ and Redick were both solid, but JJ missed some open shots and DJ didn't make a big enough impact on the floor.
The Luc Mbah a Moute Conundrum: LMAM is a fantastic perimeter defender, the best the Clippers have had in a long, long time. He needs minutes, and it's good to have him out there with the starters to set a tone on the defensive side of the floor. Unfortunately, he can't shoot. Teams know this, they help way off him, and the paint becomes a wall, impossible to penetrate. While the Clippers desperately need his defense against the Kevin Durant's and Kawhi Leonard's of the Western Conference, it is also very hard to have that bad a shooter on the wing in today's NBA.
Jealousy of Raptors' Bench: Wow they have a good group to throw out there. Every single one of their key bench reserves is an upgrade over the Clippers' player at the same spot. Cory Joseph is a terrific backup point guard who can run the offense but is also solid playing off ball with the starters. Bismack Biyombo, an absolute theft of a free agent signing, is a superb rim protector and offensive rebounder, especially against other backup big men. Patrick Patterson is the kind of stretch big the Clippers need in the worst way, capable of hitting outside shots yet still rebounding and playing defense against other front court players. And Terrence Ross, while not quite the player the Raptors were hoping for as the 8th pick in a loaded draft class, is still young, and the Clippers need all the upside they can get. Having any one of them on the Clippers' bench would be fantastic. Heck, Ross would probably start for the Clips.
Jeff Ayres Debuts: One of the few nice parts of the game was getting to see Ayres pick up his first minutes in a Clippers outfit. He didn't stand out too much, though he did have one beautiful pass to Austin Rivers (who then blew the open layup). As mentioned above, he made a couple free throws, and threw in a rebound and assist as well. I think the Clippers could have used him at some point when the game was actually being decided, especially when they had two legit big men on the floor against the Clippers bench. It will be interesting to see whether he works his way into Doc's regular rotation.
Up Next: The Clippers have two more games remaining on their East Coast road trip: a back to back against the Pacers and Hawks. While both teams have fallen off recently, neither is going to be an easy win on the road. The Pacers have one of the best players in the NBA in Paul George, and the Hawks have a deep overall roster similar to the Raptors. Friday night's home game against the struggling Lakers will be a much needed respite.