The Los Angeles Clippers were victorious in Kawhi Leonard's Toronto return with a 112-92 win over the host Raptors on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena.
Leonard led the Clips with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting. His efforts helped L.A. take a 64-46 halftime lead en route to the comfortable 20-point victory.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP led the Raptors to their first title in his lone season in Toronto last year. The free agent then signed a three-year max deal with the L.A. Clippers in July.
Before the game, he received his championship ring as the fans gave him a standing ovation:
L.A. won its third straight game to move to 19-7, good enough for second place in the Western Conference. Lou Williams played a key role off the bench with 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
The 16-8 Raptors have lost four of five and were missing Fred VanVleet, who was out with a right knee contusion suffered Sunday against the Chicago Bulls. Toronto shot just 35.2 percent from the field.
Raptors forward Pascal Siakam posted 24 points to lead all scorers.
Clippers F Kawhi Leonard: 23 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds
Clippers F Paul George: 13 points, 5 rebounds
Clippers G Lou Williams: 18 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds
Raptors F Pascal Siakam: 24 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks
Raptors F OG Anunoby: 13 points, 7 rebounds
Raptors G Norman Powell: 22 points
Leonard Receives Hero's Welcome in Triumphant Return
Leonard averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in 24 playoff games last season. He delivered Toronto's first NBA title and also contributed one of the greatest highlights in recent league history thanks to his Eastern Conference Semifinal-winning baseline jumper against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Naturally, he received a warm welcome in his first game back in Toronto since leaving town in free agency. Raptors fans weren't happy for long, however, as the Leonard-led Clips ran away with the game after halftime.
Toronto led 32-27 after one quarter, but Williams took over in the second as the Clips outscored the Raps 37-14 in the final 12 minutes before the half. He nearly outscored Toronto by himself with 13 points in addition to three assists.
A floater in the lane closed the scoring:
Four Clippers had double digits in scoring by halftime and Paul George wasn't one of them, so you know L.A. showcased its depth this evening.
Toronto cut the Clippers lead to 76-71 in the third quarter, but Leonard took over from that point forward. He keyed a 12-0 run thanks to five points and two assists, accounting for all but one bucket during that span.
L.A. never led by fewer than 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Regular-season wins in December pale in comparison to victories in the tail end of the regular season or playoffs, but this was a big victory for the Clips.
They posted an excellent road win against a tough Raptors team despite entering the night 5-6 away from Staples Center.
Furthermore, they dropped 112 points against an excellent defensive squad despite George shooting 3-of-14 overall and 2-of-12 from deep.
Plus, Williams broke out of his own personal slump, which was capped by a 2-of-19 performance Monday against the Indiana Pacers.
The Clippers can't rest easy for the remainder of December, however, with matchups against the 22-3 L.A. Lakers and 16-8 Houston Rockets looming before the new year.
Toronto's Struggles Continue, but Brighter Days Await
The Raptors were on pace for 128 points after the first quarter but finished with just 92 on a night where most of the rotation failed to get anything going offensively.
The absence of VanVleet, who is averaging 18.0 points per game, undoubtedly hurt the Raps as they struggled to find scoring outside the 46 combined points from Siakam and Norman Powell.
However, Toronto was struggling before VanVleet suffered his right knee injury, with double-digit home losses to the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets kicking off their current 1-4 slump.
The question is whether this swoon is cause for concern, and Blake Murphy of The Athletic provided his opinion:
NBA writer Chris Walder noted the team's issues of late but expressed optimism as well while also pointing out that recent results symbolize the team's capped ceiling:
Toronto entered Wednesday ranked 11th in offensive efficiency and tied for second in defensive efficiency, per ESPN, so it's not as if the Raps fluked their way to a 15-4 start.
Most Raptors fans probably would have signed up for 16-8 start after losing Leonard to the Clips in the preseason, when Caesars Sportsbook had just an above-average 45-victory over/under win total for the team.
Toronto is on pace for a 55-27 season and still has plenty of games left against the weak bottom half of the Eastern Conference, including three matchups with the New York Knicks and an upcoming three-game stretch against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards later in December.
The sky isn't falling in Toronto, and chances are the slump breaks before long.
The Clippers will visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET in Target Center. The Raps will host the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.