Reserves propel surging Clippers past slumping Raptors

Jon Gold, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


LOS ANGELES -- Two scenes from two NBA locker rooms told the entire stories of franchises going in opposite directions this season.
The first: Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, the ice on his knees only slightly colder than the expression on his morose face, fending off questions from an expectant media, arms crossed, eyes glazed, shoulders slumped.
The second: Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, entering a locker room that is tantamount to a day-care center and exclaiming, "Could there be more kids in here?" as the prodigies of NBA stars bounced off the walls, the atmosphere energetic, youthful, vibrant.
And while it may have taken a bit longer than expected, the two teams going in opposite directions finally separated themselves late in Sunday's game.
Predictably, it was the scorching Clippers who pulled away from the slumping Raptors late in the fourth quarter of their 102-83 win at Staples Center.
Los Angeles blitzed Toronto with a 21-4 run to close the game. The Clippers held the Raptors to one point during a six-minute stretch, as Los Angeles' reserves barely gave the visitors room to breathe. With his team clicking, Del Negro stuck with his bench for much of the quarter.
"They're just doing a more consistent job for us defensively, in terms of talking, getting into people as a group," Del Negro said. "Our starters had their moments tonight, but overall, I thought our bench was the key again."
That the Raptors, losers of four straight, were even in the game early in the fourth quarter was a surprise.
That the Clippers, who won their sixth straight, finally turned on the jets was not.
The Clippers outscored the Raptors 58-36 in the second half, holding Toronto to just 33.3 percent shooting.
"It did get away from us," Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan said. "We have to realize it early. When they hit a six-, eight-point run, we have to realize it. We have to calm down and get it back going our way."
Los Angeles, which had 63 first-half points in a 117-99 home win over Phoenix on Saturday afternoon, shot just 35.6 percent from the field in the first two quarters Sunday. Toronto took a 47-44 lead into halftime after an 11-0 run to close the second quarter, but Los Angeles proved too big, too strong and too balanced down the stretch.
"We played three quarters of the basketball we know how to play, and in the fourth, it just got away from us," Lowry said. "We have to put four quarters together."
Blake Griffin had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead Los Angeles, which bounced back to shoot 59 percent in the second half (20 of 34). Chris Paul added 16 points but only four assists for the Clippers. Los Angeles got big efforts from two reserves, with Jamal Crawford scoring 16 points and Eric Bledsoe adding 14 points and six assists in 20 minutes on his 23rd birthday.
"Our starters do a great job of wearing teams out, and we try to come in and deliver the knockout blow," Crawford said. "That's why the team was built this way. Seeing Chris, seeing Blake, seeing (DeAndre Jordan) playing heavy minutes last year and getting beat up by the time the playoffs were here -- everybody was injured or tired -- now, with our depth, those guys will be fresh the whole playoffs."
DeRozan, a USC product, had a game-high 24 points to lead Toronto, but he finished with a minus-18 plus/minus rating. Linas Kleiza added 17 points for the Raptors, but starters Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas combined for just five.
NOTES: Chauncey Billups (foot), Grant Hill (knee) and Trey Thompkins (knee) all missed the game for Los Angeles. Alan Anderson (foot), Landry Fields (elbow) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) did not play for the Raptors. ... The Clippers may not be able to solve the Raptors on the road, as they've lost three straight in Toronto, but Sunday's win was the Clippers' third straight over the Raptors at Staples Center, including a 103-91 victory in late January. ... The game marked a matchup between two efficient guards, as both Paul (4.14, second) and Jose Calderon (3.54, fifth) rank in the top five in the NBA assist-to-turnover ratio. Calderon wound up with two assists and two turnovers, while Paul gave the ball away twice.

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