The Clippers’ growing pains were evident for large stretches on Tuesday night, as they worked to re-integrate key personnel in a 105-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors before 1,714 fans at Staples Center.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak, but it was a sloppy – or “building,” per Patrick Beverly – effort for the mostly whole hosts, who committed 18 turnovers and got just 13 points from their star Kawhi Leonard, who was under duress by Raptors defenders, on a minutes restriction and finished 3 for 6 from the field in 33 minutes.
On Tuesday, Beverley made his return; a game earlier, it had been Leonard.
Neither rode to the rescue, exactly, as the Clippers lost their third in a row Saturday and had to sweat it out against a short-handed Raptors contingent being steered adeptly by Fred VanVleet and feeding off opportunistic understudy energy.
Paul George and Reggie Jackson helped save the day down the stretch Tuesday: Jackson drove through traffic for a tough layup to tie the score at 99-all and George blocked VanVleet and canned an open 3-pointer to make it 102-99 with 2:06 on the clock.
Then George held his ground on a Pascal Siakam drive, drawing a charge.
Swarmed, as he was all evening, by Toronto defenders, Leonard delivered a pass to Jackson, who knocked down the dagger 3-pointer that made it 105-100 with 1:06 remaining. It was the biggest of the Clippers’ 15 3-pointers and 28 assists Tuesday.
George (8 for 16) and Marcus Morris Sr. (8 for 11) both scored 22 points to lead the Clippers (44-22), and Jackson finished with 18, seven of which came in the final period. Beverley played 15 minutes, scored eight points on 3-for-5 shooting and finished with three assists and a steal.
VanVleet led the Raptors (27-39) with 27 points and a season-high 13 assists.
After beating the Lakers, 121-114, despite being at less than full strength on 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 nearly whole Tuesday, missing only center Serge Ibaka (back), the former Raptor whose return doesn’t seem imminent.
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 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 buckets made it 91-88 with 6:38 left.
A fed-up dunk by Ivica Zubac 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.
More to come on this story.