There were some growing pains Tuesday night while the Clippers worked to re-integrate key personnel – and to maneuver with Toronto defenders determinedly draped all over their stars – in a 105-100 victory over the Raptors before 1,714 fans at Staples Center.
The win snapped the Clippers’ three-game losing streak, but it was a sometimes sloppy – or “building,” as Patrick Beverly preferred – affair for the mostly whole hosts.
They committed 18 turnovers, one shy of their season-high, and in his second game back from a foot injury, got a season-low 13 points from Kawhi Leonard, who made three of his six shot attempts and dished off six assists in a limited 33 minutes.
“We got guys coming off injury, we’re trying to put it all together,” said Beverley, whose turn it was to make his return Tuesday, back early from a broken hand. “We got guys in one unit, other guys in this unit, Kawhi’s second game back, my first game back, so we’re just trying to put it all together – not sloppy though.”
So as they piece it together, the Clippers lost their third in a row upon Leonard’s return Saturday and had to sweat it out Tuesday against a short-handed Raptors contingent being steered adeptly by Fred VanVleet and feeding off opportunistic understudy energy.
They were finally able to wipe their brows thanks to late-game heroics by Paul George and Reggie Jackson, who finished with 22 and 18 points apiece.
Down the stretch, Jackson (who again got the start, and who shot 4 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with five assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes) drove through traffic for a tough layup that tied the score at 99-all.
George followed up by blocking VanVleet and canning an open 3-pointer to make it 102-99 with 2:06 left. Then George held his ground on a Pascal Siakam drive, drawing a charge.
After the Raptors challenged the call – unsuccessfully – Leonard dashed into the lane, drawing defenders before delivering a pass to Jackson on the wing.
It was the biggest of the Clippers’ 15 3-pointers and 28 assists Tuesday: Jackson knocked down the dagger from 25 feet out that made it 105-100 with 1:06 remaining.
“That is how you win, you need everybody, like I said before,” Leonard said. “Guys stepped up tonight on double teams and they were box-and-one-ing me and PG and they made shots, played a good game.”
Marcus Morris Sr. (8 for 11 overall and 4 for 5 from 3-point range) also scored 22 points for the Clippers, who improved to 44-22 and ended the evening as the sole occupants of third place in the Western Conference standings.
Beverley was permitted to play just 15 minutes, and he scored eight points on 3-for-5 shooting and finished with three assists and a steal.
“In short stints he was great,” Leonard said. “He brought energy on the defensive end, he made his shots. If his shot wasn’t there, he attacked the paint. He passed it to open shooters and he played the right way tonight.”
VanVleet led the Raptors (27-39) with 27 points and a season-high 13 assists. Siakam added 24 points.
After beating the Lakers, 121-114, Sunday, the Raptors on Tuesday played without Kyle Lowry (lower back stiffness), as well as OG Anunoby (calf), Gary Trent Jr. (leg), Chris Boucher (knee) and Paul Watson (knee).
Meanwhile, the Clippers were missing only center Serge Ibaka (back), the veteran center whose return doesn’t appear imminent.
“He’s just still staying involved,” George said of Ibaka, who was on the sideline to see his current team take on his former team Tuesday. “He’s still texting our chat and kind of letting us know he’s still supporting us, he’s still there for us, he’s still communicating with us so we’re not rushing him. We understand the severity of his injury and his rehab. We’re with him when he’s available and when he’s ready to go and we support him through this whole process.”
Toronto led 54-48 at halftime despite the Clippers shooting 54.1% and the Raptors connecting on 51.2% of their shots.
The Raptors took five more shots, though, doing what they do as league-leading turnover artists (16.2 per game) and forcing the Clippers into 10 first-half turnovers, including seven in the second quarter.
Leonard didn’t get his eighth point until the third quarter, with which the Moreno Valley native surpassed 11,000 NBA points. Almost two minutes later, he made his first 3-point attempt of the evening – and just his fifth shot attempt, total – to tie the score at 71-71 with 3:28 to play in the period.
Nicolas Batum’s steal and streaking bucket gave the Clippers the 73-71 lead, their first advantage since late in the first quarter.
They seemed like they might start to pull away, but a turnover (Rondo’s fourth of sixth), a Jalen Harris (11 points) 3-pointer for the Raptors and George’s miss from 3-point range tied it at 82-82 entering the final 12 minutes.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rondo found Batum in transition for a right-handed slam that tilted the game back toward L.A., however slightly (86-84), and triggered a Toronto timeout.
The Clippers maintained that edge until a couple of Khem Birch (13 points) baskets made it 91-88 with 6:38 left.
A fed-up dunk by Ivica Zubac (eight points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots) and a friendly bounce on a Morris 3-pointer cut the Raptors’ lead to 94-93 with five minutes left. Then Morris backed down the shorter VanVleet and drained turnaround jumper to give L.A. the lead, 95-94, and it went back and forth until George and Jackson shut the door.
— NBA (@NBA) May 5, 2021