Such an emotional night that held so much promise.
An amped up crowd reliving the greatest year in franchise history and most meteorically great player that may ever play in Toronto.
A high-quality opponent that should have forced the Raptors to be at their best.
An energetic start.
And then, pfft.
Flat as a pancake, the Raptors were, except for a few moments here and there of inspired play and Kawhi Leonard prepares to leave Toronto as a winner once again.
A night that began with a raucous celebration of Leonard’s one-year star turn with the Raptors ended with much of the crowd of more than 20,000 having fled the Scotiabank Arena following a 112-92 Clippers victory.
Leonard wasn’t brilliant in his lone regular season appearance in the city but he was quietly excellent, 8-for-14 from the floor, 23 points, five rebounds and six assists in what turned out to be an easy night for his teammates and him.
“It was a great moment,” Leonard said of the ceremony. “They did a great job putting that together, having all the players out there and everyone waiting, standing there and presenting my ring. It was great.”
And closes a chapter.
“It pretty much comes full circle now, being able to get the ring and see where the hard work and stuff came from,” he said. “It’s more than that. It’s just a journey. For me, as far as playing for the city, the chapter closed once I came over to the Clippers. Still love the city, those guys on the team, the players, the coaching staff, still have love for them and I wish them the best.”
Leonard only had to play 32 minutes in his team’s victory, one that turned into a huge emotional letdown for the crowd, not to mention Toronto’s fourth loss in about a week.
“I thought we were really flying around out there and it looked liked it was going to be a helluva ball game and we went through a really dry spell offensively that deflated us,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
The Raptors have now lost four of their last five games and once again showed only minor flashes of what they had been in the first 20 games of the season.
They were ghastly in the second quarter — 0-for-9 from three-point range, 5-for-22 from the field overall — and that basically took all the energy out of the building.
The Raptors did cut the deficit to five points in the third quarter but the Clippers rattled off 12 straight points to end the evening.
It’s not hard to pinpoint where Toronto’s offence is struggling the most — from beyond the three-point line — and it’s a collective shooting slump that’s killing them.
It’s not like they can’t shoot — they were, collectively, a 40.1 per cent three-point shooting team over the first 20 games of the regular season.
It’s more they just can’t shoot right now.
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Tossing Tuesday’s 8-for-36 night on the heaping pile of shooting garbage over the last four games and Toronto is shooting a collective 27.2 per cent (49-for-180) from distance.
Kyle Lowry missed all seven three-pointer he tried against the Clippers in the most telling shooting stat of the night.
“I’m just trying to think if any of them were really bad ones; I can’t recall if they were forced or not open, I think that they were decent shots,” Nurse said. “He’s in one of those grooves where he’s not making some right now and we’ll get to work on that and look at it. He goes through some shooting woes every now and then for a few games and snaps out of it. He’s too good a shooter to do that.”
Lowry won’t panic; he realizes it’s 25 games into a long season and things will even out. But in the last two games he’s missed all but one three-pointer he’s tried.
“I’ve had two good games and the rest have been (crap), to be honest,” said Lowry, who’s still shaking off the rust from his nine-game injury absence. “Once I get back to where I was at the beginning of the season, it will be great. Right now, I’m just trying to work my way in and trying to figure it out, and get better and get better over time. But right now I’m nowhere near where I want to be physically and where I need to be.”
But they will keep firing away.
“Continue to shoot them, and just continue to play our offence and making sure that we make plays for each other, and take the shot that’s there,” said Pascal Siakam, who had a team-high 24 points for the Raptors. “We can’t shy away from it because they’re not going in. Continue to move the ball, play as a team and shoot open shots.”
The Leonard tribute was wonderful and one more moment of almost closure on last season’s championship team. A video of nearly two minutes documented his brilliance, the standing ovation that greeted him when he simply walked on the court for pre-game warmup was lovely.
He proudly took his gigantic ring from Lowry after hugging teammates, coaches, senior management, waved to the adoring crowd and it was over.
“It was great,” Lowry said. “It was well deserved. He helped this franchise do amazing things. He got his ring and I think he was pretty happy with it.”
And it almost — almost — finishes off the remnants of the 2019 championship celebrations.
“Well we keep saying we’re going to move on, but Danny Green will come in (with the Lakers) and we’ll do it all over again,” Nurse said.