Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Facing the franchise with which he won the 2019 NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard dropped 13 points Tuesday as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Toronto Raptors 105-100 at Staples Center.
It marked the first of the teams’ two meetings this month as the Clippers look to lock up home-court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for Los Angeles (44-22), which entered the night tied with the Denver Nuggets for third in the Western Conference and four games behind the Utah Jazz for first.
The Raptors (27-39) dropped to 3.5 games behind the Washington Wizards for 10th place—the final play-in tournament slot—in the Eastern Conference.
The Clippers clinched a berth in the postseason Sunday when the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, Los Angeles Clippers: 13 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds
Paul George, SG, Los Angeles Clippers: 22 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
Fred VanVleet, PG, Toronto Raptors: 27 points, 13 assists
Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors: 24 points, 7 rebounds,
Clippers’ Restored Rotation Delivers Win
The final stages of the Clippers’ regular season are beginning to look a lot like the first few weeks of the year. There were plenty miscommunications, highlighted by 18 turnovers, and odd lineups as head coach Tyronn Lue continued to tinker with the game plan ahead of the playoffs.
It’s easy to understand where he’s coming from. After all, Tuesday marked the first time since March 11 Los Angeles had Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum healthy and on the floor together. Leonard was playing just his second game back after missing the last five with a lingering foot injury.
The Clips are forced to build as much chemistry as possible with just six games left on the schedule and playoff seeding still to be determined. Talented as they are, it’s a tough position to be in this late in the year. Which is what made Tuesday’s victory especially reassuring.
Not only did L.A. rally back from down seven early, the Clippers shot 52 percent from the floor, won the rebound battle 42-37, scored 40 points in the paint and—most importantly—assisted on 28 of their 39 made field goals. All of it coming against a desperate Toronto team looking to lock up a playoff spot.
Leonard had confidence the team would find its groove before the game. He’ll likely have even more after it.
“You know, I’m back, [we’re] just going to have to do it with what we have,” Leonard told reporters Sunday when asked about restoring the team’s chemistry. “We won games before, so we just got to keep this rolling and see the adjustments and the players [who] are going to play in certain situations to help us win games.”
Against the Raptors that proved to be Reggie Jackson (18 points), who pump-faked his way to a game-sealing three-pointer as L.A. wrestled a back-and-forth game away from Toronto, but overall the Clips saw every starter except center Ivica Zubac score in double figures with Batum and Beverley combing for 15 points off the bench.
As far as building chemistry goes, the Toronto gave Los Angeles a pop quiz the Clippers couldn’t help but ace.
Raptors Playoff Hopes In Trouble
Considering the Raps earned 51 combined points from Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam and came within five points of knocking off the Clippers at home despite missing Kyle Lowry (back), it’s hard to get too down on Toronto for another missed opportunity.
That won’t make things any easier if the Raptors end up missing the postseason, too.
With Tuesday’s loss, Toronto is 3.5 games back of Washington for the 10th seed with six games to play—the most crucial of which comes Thursday at home against the Wizards. Even if the Raptors defeat Russell Westbrook & Co., it’s still going to be a major uphill battle to reach the play-in tournament.
Five of Toronto’s remaining six opponents are all playoff teams with the lone outlier, the Chicago Bulls, just a half-game back of the Raptors in the standings and attempting to sneak into the play-in tournament following the return of Zach LaVine to the lineup.
The Raptors’ margin for error has reached the point of no return. A loss to the Wizards may ultimately keep Toronto from returning to the playoffs and even a win might not be enough secure a berth. This is life for bubble teams who no longer control their own destiny.
After a long season spent playing home games in Tampa, Florida, the Raptors may finally be on the verge of returning to Canada. But it’ll come at the expense of watching 20 other teams continue playing without them.
The Clippers continue their four-game homestand Thursday against the rival Lakers at 10 p.m. ET on TNT. The Clips won the first two contests this season and will be looking to sweep.
Toronto will continue its playoff push against visiting Washington at 7: 30 p.m. Thursday.
This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.
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