The Clippers have been without Chris Paul since mid-January after he sustained a thumb injury against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and have only had Blake Griffin back for four games prior to tonight. Griffin, who had been out since the end of December following arthroscopic knee surgery, has been impactful upon his return. Not at full health since early in the season, the Clippers have struggled most at the defensive end, and as a result, have dropped in the standings in the ever-competitive Western Conference.
The Raptors have been without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan for a stretch of games due to ankle injury, as well as Patrick Patterson with a knee injury. During the last week, the Raptors, much like the Clippers, dropped in the standings, as the hot Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards surged past them in the Eastern Conference. Both teams had losing records over their last 10 games, struggling with rotation changes and defensive lapses. DeRozan returned tonight, however, and it paid dividends for the Raptors.
The Clippers, who jumped out front early on, could not capitalize upon stellar shooting due to a lackluster defensive performance against the Raptors. They led by as many as 11 points, and found themselves down by as many as 20. The Clippers and Raptors entered tonight’s matchup ranking 6th and 2nd, respectively, in Offensive Efficiency, so it was a given that it would be a high-scoring affair. But for the Clippers, there appeared to be no new schemes, no new methods to handling an opposing defense. All game long, the Clippers haphazardly scrambled on defensive assignments, consistently giving the Raptors quality, open looks. The Clippers managed to end the game on a 9-0 run, but it was simply too little, too late.
Getting to the Line
Free throws really plagued the Clippers throughout this game. The Raptors are an excellent team at both drawing and converting foul shots, so it was crucial for the Clippers to prevent any Raptors players, particularly DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, from getting to the line. By halftime, the Raptors were 19-22 at the line, versus the Clippers’ 5-7. And by game’s end, though the Clippers had managed to close the margin, 7 of DeRozan’s game-high 31 points and 7 of Lowry’s 24 came from the free throw line. As a team, the Raptors shot 89.7% from behind the line, making 26 of 29 attempts.
By contrast, the Clippers, also a great team at drawing fouls this season, only made 12 of 18 attempted free throws, good enough for just 66.7%. As bad as that was, the larger issue at hand was defending the Raptors without initiating contact. DeAndre Jordan, the defensive anchor for the Clippers, had committed his second foul less than four minutes into the game; he would find himself in foul trouble for much of the rest of the game. And his replacement, Marreese Speights, had also committed two costly fouls before the first quarter was even finished. The Clippers fouled plentifully, a result of poor-timing and being a bit over-zealous on the defensive end. The Clippers discovered an opportunity late in the second quarter by getting the ball down-low to Griffin in the post, where he drew three straight fouls in less than a minute. But for some reason, this tactic wasn’t employed in the second half.
Battle of the Boards
Rebounding has been an issue for the Clippers during the entire Lob City era. In spite of all their strengths and improvements over the last few years, especially in terms of defense, the Clippers have continued to struggle with rebounding. Rebounding is a metric that nearly all great teams rank favorably in; it is a sort of litmus test for success, especially defensively. Clippers have modestly improved this season, as a whole, but have had difficulty lately. Tonight, they were out-rebounded 47-39, by a Raptors team that currently ranks 27th in the league in defensive rebounds per game (32.0); this is unacceptable.
It was expected that fatigue might seep-in at some point tonight, since both teams were playing on the second night of back-to-back games. And the Clippers will concede offensive rebounds in favor of getting set defensively, especially in transition. But they still lost the defensive rebounding battle, 30-36. Jordan’s limited minutes due to foul trouble were a major factor, even though he grabbed 12 boards in just 25 minutes of play, but the second-unit could have stepped-up. The Clippers bench combined for a measly 4 rebounds in the entire game, despite combining for 72 total minutes played. The Clippers must be more active on the glass going forward.
Give credit to the Toronto Raptors, but especially to DeRozan and Lowry, along with Jonas Valanciunas, whose combined 76 points carried their team to victory. The Clippers scored well, getting a triple-double performance out of Griffin (26 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds) as well as a 22-point performance from Austin Rivers. Five Clippers players scored in double figures, but it simply wasn't enough against the humming Raptors offense.
L.A. Clippers at New York Knicks
Wednesday 02/08, 5:00pm PST
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
ESPN, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570