10 things: Resilient Raptors run out of gas against Kawhi's Clippers

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 98-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

One — Grit: This was a scheduled loss, but the Raptors did everything within their power to prevent the inevitable. Even without half of their rotation, Nick Nurse had his team fighting tooth and nail before completely hitting the wall in the fourth quarter. Given that the Raptors were playing their third game in four nights, and considering their formidable opposition, the final result is far from surprising, but the defending champions can hang their heads high after this one.

Two — Mastermind: Nurse devised a defensive scheme that completely neutralized Kawhi Leonard, who finished the night with 12 points and a career-high nine turnovers. Nurse threw traps at Leonard from every angle, and it completely threw him off his game. The Clippers did capitalize on some missed rotations, but Leonard never found his rhythm. He didn’t make his first basket until midway through the third, and he finished the game shooting 2-of-11 from the field. If that doesn’t show you how good of a coach Nurse is, nothing will. It was nothing short of a masterclass.

Three — Dogged: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson drew the primary assignment on Leonard, and he was nothing short of sensational. Hollis-Jefferson was completely spent by the end, but that’s because he spent 30 minutes hounding Leonard up and down the floor. He’s a pest that’s always prodding on defense, he’s strong enough to hold his position in the post, and he’s an active rebounder. The only knock on Hollis-Jefferson is that he’s a complete non-shooter and an unreliable finisher in the paint, but he should absolutely see more minutes moving forward. Hustle counts for a lot, especially in the regular season.

Toronto put on a masterclass defensively against Kawhi. (Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Four — Worrisome: What’s more impressive about Hollis-Jefferson’s performance was that he stepped up on short notice. OG Anunoby played just two minutes after Leonard clawed out his right eye. Anunoby stayed down for two possessions, and was quickly ruled out. The Raptors cannot afford another injury right now, especially not to their best defender.

Five — Energy: Chris Boucher was the only Raptor with any legs left in the fourth quarter. He met Montrezl Harrell at the rim with a spectacular two-handed block, drilled a three, converted a putback, and was the only Raptor still skying for rebounds while his teammates were ground-bound. Boucher is breaking out at exactly the right time, and he also deserves more playing time. Granted, when everyone is healthy, Nurse will have a difficult decision on his hands choosing between Boucher or Hollis-Jefferson, as they both slot in at power forward.

Six — Inconsistent: Every single player on the Raptors battled on defense, and Matt Thomas is no exception. However, he was quite obviously their worst defender by some distance, and the Clippers made a point to single him out. Thomas gives effort, but he’s often out of position and not aware of his surroundings, which is going to limit his playing time until further notice.

Seven — Potential: Having said that, Thomas can clearly produce on offense. He went a perfect 3-of-3 from the field, which included a triple off a pin-down, a catch-and-shoot three, and a leaning bank shot to beat the buzzer. Thomas is savvy in attacking without the ball, and his teammates are making a point to find him. The next step for him will be to get stronger, as Thomas mostly struggles to create separation when he pushes off before his cuts.

Eight — Symptom: The Clippers ultimately won this game by attacking the offensive glass, as they outrebounded the Raptors by 28. This was a problem for the Raptors earlier in the season, but Toronto has cleaned up their defensive rebounding of late. Tonight’s effort is more indicative of tired legs than anything else.

Nine — Blip: After starting the season shooting 38-of-40 at the line, Pascal Siakam has now missed six free throws in his last two games, including bricking a pair in the fourth quarter. Again, this is symptomatic of fatigue, as Siakam has also drawn short iron in just about every jumper he’s launched since the New Orleans game. Siakam’s motor is second to none, but even he can’t maintain the same level after playing 40 minutes a night over a difficult road trip.

Ten — Promising: Terence Davis continues to give the shorthanded Raptors a boost off the bench. He’s making smarter reads in the pick and roll, and he continues to convert a respectable share of his catch-and-shoot threes. Davis should see extended run against Portland and Dallas to close out the road trip.

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