ONCE-RESTED RAPS NO LONGER ENJOY SCHEDULE’S PERKS
Toronto took advantage of tired Clippers with Warriors waiting for crucial matchup
This time the shoe was on the other foot.
In Tuesday night’s 123-99 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Raptors had the distinct advantage of being the more rested team.
The Clippers made it to Los Angeles hours after the Raptors, having expended a ton of energy in an overtime win in Phoenix on Monday night.
The Raptors turned down the opportunity to practise on Monday. They did fly to Los Angeles, but with nothing on the schedule, it was a rather restful day for the NBA’s top club in points.
That advantage played out Tuesday night in Toronto’s favour as the Raptors absorbed an early push by the Clippers and then simply wore them down with an uptempo game the Clippers could have clearly done without.
“Pace,” said Kyle Lowry of the difference in this one. “They had a tough one (Monday) night in Phoenix. Had to go into overtime and put some extra juice into it. But our pace was great. We didn’t let them (rest). We didn’t slow it down. We kept going, kept going and I think that kind of helped us.”
Danny Green saw it, too. The Clippers, who have been so good at home this year and have to be considered one of the surprise teams to date, came out strong, hitting from distance and putting an early scare into the Raptors before Toronto’s fresher legs took the game over.
“Once they started missing a little bit, it took some of their confidence and you could tell they were fatigued from Monday night,” Green said. “That was in our favour. It started with one or two stops and then it just trickled on.”
But just as there is truth in the schedule win, there is also truth in the schedule loss and there is the real possibility that the Raptors will be on that end of things Wednesday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland when they take on the Golden State Warriors.
This time around the Raptors come in at a rest disadvantage, though not quite as accelerated as the one with which the Clippers were dealing.
The Warriors have not played since Monday, when they won a home game over Minnesota. The Raptors will be playing their sixth of 12 back-to-backs this year despite being just over a third of the way through the schedule.
Again, the situations aren’t identical. Not only did the Raptors not have to endure overtime, they were basically in garbage time by the beginning of the fourth quarter, meaning coach Nick Nurse could start emptying his bench and save his starters some unnecessary wear and tear.
Still, dealing with the Warriors, even on equal rest, is not an easy feat and unlike the first meeting between these clubs won by Toronto a couple of weeks ago the Warriors this time will have both Steph Curry and Draymond Green in the lineup, two huge absences in the first tilt.
On the plus side of the ledger, the win over the Clippers seemed to cure a lot of the Raptors’ ails, chief among them the end to the short-term funk in which Lowry had been mired.
It wasn’t just that Lowry wasn’t scoring in the previous five games, it was like he forgot how to attack, a key part of his game. He was back to his old form Tuesday in Los Angeles, driving to the rim, draining threes and generally being the all-around producer that he has been for the majority of his time in a Raptors uniform.
“I kind of felt he would have a good game when I saw him do that little shimmy two-footer under the rim that he hasn’t done for a while,” Nurse said of one of Lowry’s early buckets. “He takes it in there and everyone is around and next thing you know he is putting one up over here and it’s in, one of those at-therim shots for him. He did a little bit of everything. The stroke looked like when he let it go tonight he knew it was going in, so that was good to see again.”
Or as Lowry put it after the game, “it was just time, it was time for me to step up and play.”
Without Kawhi Leonard to lean on, out with a sore hip courtesy of a fall in Sunday’s game, it wasn’t just good to see, it was very much needed.
Leonard was expected to be a game-time decision Wednesday in Oakland. Without him in the lineup, Toronto’s chances of snapping a team-worst 13-game losing streak in the Bay Area would take another hit. And it would be a real shame if the basketball world were deprived of another classic Kevin DurantLeonard head-to-head matchup.