The Clippers are 6-3 on the young season, and have had plenty of nice moments and strong wins already. However, outside of the first game of the season against the Lakers, they haven’t had a game that stood out for any ulterior reason. That changes tomorrow night against the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard’s first game against the team with whom he won a championship last season. It’s in LA, not Toronto, but it should be an interesting night nonetheless as Kawhi takes on his old squad.
Kawhi does not seem like a particularly sentimental type, but he won a championship with many of the players on the Raptors just five months ago, and that bond lasts forever. He clearly still has affection for Toronto, the Raptors, and his former teammates, and some of that might shine through in a way it rarely does with Kawhi. Maybe he won’t exactly get emotional (at least in Los Angeles), but we might see a slightly different Kawhi than normal.
That familiarity is a two-way street, however. Kawhi knows the Raptors, but they also know him in a way no other team does in the NBA outside of maybe the Spurs (though he was a different player for most of his tenure in SA). The Raptors know his moves, they understand his tendencies, and will certainly have a great gameplan in place against him on both ends. Whether said gameplan works is another question, but there’s no doubt the Raptors will be better prepared for what Kawhi can do than any other team in the NBA.
Not only that, but the Raptors have two of the players in the NBA best suited to cover Kawhi in Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. Siakam is a breakout star, the type of player the Raptors will be able to build around for years to come, and he has the perfect size, length, and quickness to match Kawhi step for step. Anunoby doesn’t quite have Siakam’s size, but he’s long and strong as well, and should certainly be able to give good contests at the very least. Kawhi can score against any player, anywhere. He is going to get his. But the Raptors are going to make him work for it through both scheme and individual defensive talent.
For the Clippers, the Raptors will be another good test of their smarts and execution. The Raptors are down Kyle Lowry, their leader and second-best player, as well as Serge Ibaka, another starter. They are also playing on the second night of a back to back after a close contest against the Lakers, a team that plays a physically taxing style of play. However, the Raptors are also hyper-competent: they rarely make mistakes, and constantly play to the fullest of their abilities. The Clippers might have rest, and certainly have a talent advantage, even without Paul George, but if they don’t watch out, the Raptors will steal this game away from them. While the Clippers have mostly played well to start the season, they’ve been sloppy at times on both ends, and they just won’t be able to get away with that against this Raptors team.
This game should be a lot of fun. Apparently, a bunch of Raptors fans flew into LA to see Kawhi play against the Raptors for the first time, and they will assuredly be quite loud. Kawhi will be on his A-game (though isn’t he always?), and the Raptors will be eager to take Leonard and his new team down. It won’t be as emotionally impactful as Kawhi’s first game back in Toronto, but there might be some fireworks, and everything is shaping up for a tight, exciting contest.
If you’re looking for last-minute tickets to attend this one, check out this Stubhub link.
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