LOS ANGELES, CA (News4usonline) – The most anticipated night of the NBA season for Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard happened to be on Veteran’s Day when the former Toronto Raptors star played a game against his former teammates. Probably even more exciting for Leonard and the Clippers is playing at home.
Playing away from Staples Center has been tough for Leonard and his teammates. So far this season, the Clippers are in the negative in that department and that explains the team’s fifth-place standing in the NBA’s Western Conference.
The driving culprit could be lack of intensity on both ends of the court as guard Lou Williams stated in the aftermath of the Clippers’ 102-93 defeat to the Houston Rockets on the road.
“We didn’t execute on anything,” Williams said. “Defensively, we were blowing some coverages and offensively, we weren’t as sharp as we usually are.”
There’s plenty of basketball to be played between now and the postseason. A couple of early road losses won’t derail the Clippers from reaching their ultimate goal. This will give Leonard, Paul George and the rest of their crew to get things in order as it pertains to playing on the road. For now, though, playing at home have been nothing but positive for the Clippers.
Playing his ex-team for the first time since he vacated Canada to be back in his hometown of Los Angeles, Leonard picked up a win with his new team and basked in the glow of being able to share his thoughts of playing with guys he won a championship with.
“It’s just fun, being able to compete with guys who you were with last year,” Leonard said after the game. “We grew and grew our relationship and from that aspect, it’s a little bit more competitive because you do talk to them, so, you can tell them we won the game tonight. That’s pretty much it,butI can’t get off of the team character. We have a goal for ourselves to come out and win as a whole, so that’s what my approach is to the game.”
What is the big deal about this reunion? In the case that you might have been hiding or sleeping under a rock for the past 12 months, it was Leonard and his band of Toronto teammates who won the coveted NBA championship against the mighty Golden State Warriors last spring.
Fast forward to a new season. Leonard has a new team. Los Angeles is his home. The Raptors came visiting to Staples Center Monday night and probably thought that they could pull off a double=double, in terms of playing both the Clippers and Lakers, and knocking off both Los Angeles teams during the same weekend.
What have worked against the Lakers, didn’t turn out well at all for the Raptors against Leonard and the Clippers. Toronto scored 113 points in its win against the Lakers on Sunday. Leonard and the Clippers put up a much stiffer defensive effort, holding the Raptors to just 10 points in the fourth quarter to come away with a 98-88 win.
Playing back-to-back games against the Lakers and the Clippers may have contributed to Toronto running out of gas in the final period. It could have also been a combination of battling fatigue and going up against the defensive ferocity applied by the Clippers, Doc Rivers stated.
“Probably a little bit of both,” Rivers said. “I definitely thought our size defensively was a major factor. They are usually the longest team and tonight, they felt a team that was longer. It was one of those nights. Clearly playing back-to-back, even though there was no travel involved, is very difficult. That is why we keep trying to cut [back-to-backs]out. It is very hard on coaches.”
When it came to putting it down on his former team, that magic didn’t quite happen for Leonard. In just a little bit over 34 minutes of playing time, Leonard made only 2 of 11 shots from the field and scored only 12 points. He did have 11 rebounds and nine assists on the evening.
Toronto’s defense had a lot to do with Leonard having a rare off scoring night as the Raptors picked him up early and double-teamed him most of the game.
“They got me better tonight,” Leonard said. “As soon as I walked across half court, they’re trying to get the ball out of my hands and sending extra defender.It’s going to get my teammates better. They’re going to do it at times in the playoffs, and in the regular season, and they’re going to knock down the wide-openshot, and that’s what wins games, open shots.You know, we came out with a win. They did a great job on me tonight, defending, and sending an extra body.I’m glad they did, because it got me better and it’s going to get my teammates better.”
It’s a good thing that Leonard has some other guys on the Clippers that can step up to the plate when called on. Montrezl Harrell (21 points) helped picked up the slack in that department as neither team shot particularly well from the floor. Actually, it was not a good night shooting-wise for the Clippers.
As a team, the Clippers converted only 37 percent of their field goal attempts into points. The Raptors weren’t too far behind, making only 40 percent of their shots. Toronto guard Fred VanVleet, who scored 14 points, said the Raptors played like they lost their energy to finish off the game.
“Yeah, [we ran out of gas] a little bit,” VanVleet said. “I thought we had some opportunities there in the fourth, but we couldn’t get a bucket, couldn’t get a roll, a free-throw, or anything. We kind of ran ourselves into the mud and I’ll give [the Clippers] credit. They closed it out, but we fought hard and are onto the next one.”
The saving grace for the Clippers turned out to be the charity stripe. The Clippers made 22 of their 30 attempts from the free throw line, whereas the Raptors only got 15 attempts (9 makes). Toronto forward Pascal Siakam, who scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Raptors, said the matchup against Leonard was nothing special.
“It’s another game, but obviously we wanted to get the win tonight.” Siakam said. “Make sure that we make it as difficult as possible for him to score, but at the end we wanted to get a win. That’s all that matters.”
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. A news and sports reporter, Dennis has written about social justice, civil rights, education, politics, and crime. He also covers the NFL, NBA, MLB as well as other sports. Based in Southern California, Dennis earned a journalism degree with a minor in criminal justice from Howard University. The real HU!!