Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
The Raptors opened up last week’s set of games on the road to start a 4-game Western road trip. After a tough loss to one of the NBA’s weakest teams – the Brooklyn Nets – more than over a week ago, the Raptors looked to bounce back and hopefully sweep this four-game road trip vs the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets.
It all started on Tuesday night with the Raptors in LA against the Clippers at the Staples Center. It was Toronto’s first meeting with the Clippers this season, and just an hour before tip-off it was confirmed that Toronto would be without All-Star Kawhi Leonard due to a hip injury. It was heard that this injury was minor and that he would be taking the night off to fully heal and to be 100 percent ready for the defending champions in the Golden State Warriors in just 24 hours time. With the absence of Leonard, this turned into a tricky game for the Raptors, going up against a tough Clippers team who have shocked many; sitting with a 17-9 record on the year so far. This forced head coach Nick Nurse to start Fred VanVleet and slide Kyle Lowry to the shooting guard position. It’s also worth noting that earlier in that day, it was reported that Nurse had lost his mother – Marcella Nurse – at the age of 94.
Nurse was in attendance to coach the game that following night when many thought he should stay back home in Iowa with family after his loss. Nurse was asked before the game why he wasn’t at home and he simply said, “I’m here because my mother wouldn’t want it any other way.” The Raptors were all business that night, playing with toughness and courage for their head coach after such a tough family loss. They dominated the first quarter, putting up 36 points against the Clippers 23. After that, they never looked back. Walking out of LA with a 123-99 victory with big performances from Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry - combining for 46 points. In which many saw a great danger to this Raptors team against the Clippers without Leonard, it didn’t seem too bad, as Toronto took care of business getting a big win for them and their head coach.
And so, it was off to Oakland, California. Coming fresh off their win over the Clippers, they now faced an even tougher task against the Warriors. To make things worse, they were once again without Kawhi Leonard. As this game was being televised on ESPN and nationally around North America, fans were treated to another “Finals preview.” Without Leonard, many thought the Raptors were in deep trouble, but that wasn’t the case. The Raptors, just like less than 24 hours prior, got out to a hot start, shocking the Warriors and holding Golden State to just 41 halftime points.
The Raptors came out of halftime protecting their double-digit lead and never looked back. Playing every possession with great fundamental basketball and playing every defensive possession with high intensity, forcing the Warriors to take tough shots; Steph Curry and Klay Thompson especially. With all odds stacked against them, the Raptors ultimately took charge and walked away from Oakland with a professional 20-point victory over the Warriors; 113-93.
Nearly 48 hours later, the Raptors landed in Portland to take on the Blazers for game 3 of 4 on this Western road trip. Going into that game, the Raptors were without Kyle Lowry who was suffering with minor back soreness and Jonas Valanciunas - who will be out for at least a month after suffering a dislocated left thumb by the hands – quiet literally – of Draymond Green. The Raptors did get some fire-power back from the likes of Kawhi Leonard, returning after a 2-game absence. But that wasn’t enough. Leonard and the Raptors looked sloppy early in the game, and were trailing the Blazers 58-50 at halftime. Without the likes of Lowry and his quickened pace and playmaking ability, the ball was in the hands of Leonard a lot late in the game with the Raptors attempting to take the lead, but the Blazers didn’t let that happen. They bent, but didn’t break and defeated the Raptors 128-122.
Onto last night, game 4 of 4 on the Western road trip. With Toronto looking to close out this trip on a high note, they would once again have to do it without the likes of Lowry. News also broke out that the team would be without Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. A total of five players were out of the lineup for Toronto, including Norman Powell and Valanciunas. Toronto wasn’t the only team dealing with injuries as the Denver Nuggets also had five players out, one big name being Paul Millsap.
Ultimately last night’s game was a show of which team had better depth and who wanted it more. Toronto didn’t, at least in the 4th quarter. Toronto looked sluggish and went into a huge shooting slump, They had a slim 4-point lead heading into the 4th quarter, but then it all came crashing down. Denver opened the quarter on a 12-0 run, and they didn’t look back. Toronto missed key opportunities to get back into that game late but failed to cash in on great and open looks from beyond the three-point line. Toronto shot 7-of-35 from 3-pt range, collectively, and a total 35-of-88 (39.8%) from the field.
It was a rough night for Raptor fans and the team. Head Coach Nick Nurse criticized NBA officials in his post-game comments on the fact that All-Star Kawhi Leonard isn’t getting the fouls calls he deserves. Nurse could expect a fine of $25,000 from the NBA.
It was a tough road trip as the injured-prone Toronto Raptors can now get some rest until they return home on Wednesday to take on the Pacers and hopefully get some fire power back.
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