The game started out on an incredible note with the Raptors playing a video tribute for Kawhi Leonard and then holding a brief ring ceremony. It was extremely well done and very classy, all while being quite moving. The actual game itself did not quite live up to that aura, but the 1st quarter was still well played basketball. The Raptors doubled Kawhi Leonard and Paul George hard, forcing the Clippers role players to step up offensively. They were able to do so decently well in the first period, although the defense was a bit soft. As the bench came in, the Raptors extended their lead, and held a five-point advantage over the Clips at the end of one.
Things shifted significantly in the 2nd quarter. Doc utilized Derrick Walton Jr. once more over Jerome Robinson, and while Walton put up no stats in the period, his energy and defense were notable. However, the real stars were Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who both got cooking in the period, and repeatedly roasted the Raptors’ defenders. They especially thrived playing off Kawhi and Paul George, who drew attention from the defense and freed up the bench stars for easy buckets. Moe Harkless was everywhere defensively and made great cuts on offense, while Pat Beverley battled on both ends. The result was a 37-14 walloping in the best quarter the Clippers have played all season, and a 64-46 edge at the half.
The third quarter saw the Clippers lose all the momentum they’d gained in the previous quarter. They force fed Paul George a bunch of shots, but due to Pascal Siakam’s defense he was unable to connect, and the Raptors cut the lead from 20 down to 10 in a matter of minutes. Things only got worse when Pat Beverley exited the game with a head injury (he was later ruled out with a concussion) after running into a Marc Gasol screen. They couldn’t score at all, while the Raptors continued to cut into the lead by scoring in the paint. With the lead at five, Doc Rivers initiated a 2-3 zone which turned the tide. All of a sudden, it was the Raptors who couldn’t score, and the Clippers who were pushing in transition. Kawhi and Lou made a few shots, George finally nailed a jumper, and the Clippers closed the quarter on a 12-0 run to push the lead back to 17.
The 4th quarter was largely a defensive struggle, with neither team able to get going. However, that suited the Clippers just fine, as they were able to nurse their lead without the Raptors making any major encroachments. Any time the Raptors scored, the Clippers came right back, and soon the Clippers were up 20 with just a few minutes to go, closing the game with their garbage time lineup and earning a 112-92 victory.
Moe Harkless, Moe Wins: Moe Harkless, as he has been all season, was fantastic in this one. He did a great job limiting Siakam, the Raptors’ best player, and was terrifying in help defense all over the court. Tonight, however, was a standout offensive performance as well. Moe made numerous smart cuts as the Raptors doubled Kawhi and PG, and the Clippers found him time and again under the basket for easy dunks and lay-ins. His ability to make himself available in those situations is of great value, and makes him a perfect fit with this starting lineup. What a revelation Moe has been.
Lou’s Shot Returns: After struggling fairly badly the past couple games, Lou was at his best tonight. He consistently scored when the Clippers needed a bucket, and was especially dominant in the Clippers huge 2nd quarter. He also contributed six rebounds and eight assists, finding Montrezl Harrell in their usual pick and roll dance in addition to spearheading the Clippers’ transition buckets. It was, in short, a 6th Man of the Year type performance, and one the Clippers needed tonight with Paul George off.
Injuries Pile Up: The Clippers can’t catch a break right now. With Rodney McGruder projected to return Friday and JaMychal Green at least day-to-day, the Clippers appeared to be returning to health. Well, as mentioned above, Pat Beverley picked up a concussion in the 3rd quarter, and will now need to pass the NBA’s concussion protocol to return to action. Head injuries are serious stuff, and Pat should absolutely take his time in returning to the court. Meanwhile, 3rd string point guard Derrick Walton Jr. injured his hamstring at some point in the 2nd quarter, which is why he didn’t appear in the 2nd half. There’s no word on the severity of the injury yet, but hamstring issues are always tricky, and there’s a possibility Walton could miss time now too. The Clippers are a rickety bunch at the moment, and desperately need some of their guys to get healthy.
Kawhi’s Return Lives Up to Hype: I mentioned it at the top, but it bears repeating: what the Raptors did tonight for Kawhi was awesome. The video, the ring ceremony, the standing ovation, the chants of “MVP”, all of it. Such a heroes welcome was justified considering how Kawhi led the Raps to a championship last year, but it was still really cool to see. Moments like these are what make sports truly special, and it was great to see that respect and love on display.