TORONTO – On a night Kawhi Leonard was celebrated by Toronto Raptors fans, he showed them just what they’re missing this season.
In his first trip to Toronto since leaving for Los Angeles in the off-season, Leonard had 23 points to lead the Clippers to a 112-92 rout of his former team.
Pascal Siakam had 24 points, while Norman Powell finished with 22 points for the Raptors (16-8), in their fourth loss in five games. It was Toronto’s third consecutive loss at home after going a franchise-record 9-0 to start the season.
OG Anunoby had 13 points and seven rebounds, Marc Gasol added 11 rebounds to go with nine points and Terrence Davis chipped in with 10 points for Toronto, which was missing Fred VanVleet for the second consecutive game (right knee contusion).
Leonard, who earned Finals MVP to cap the Raptors’ historic playoff run, shot 8-for-14 on the night, adding six assists and five rebounds for the Clippers (19-7), who won for the ninth time in 11 outings.
The game had been circled on Raptors’ fans calendars since the season schedule was released. And the early minutes definitely lived up to the hype. The Scotiabank Arena crowd of 20,144 gave Leonard a rousing hero’s welcome, chanting “M-V-P!” as he received his NBA championship ring.
By halftime, fans had to be wishing Leonard was still on their team.
Toronto had an early six-point lead, but the game turned on a horrible second quarter. Williams poured in 13 points alone in the frame. The Raptors had 14 points as a team, on 5-for-22 shooting. They missed all nine three-point attempts.
The Raptors turned it around to start the third, holding the Clippers to just 1-for-11 shooting, and when Anunoby swatted the ball away from Leonard and raced downcourt for a dunk, it pulled Toronto to within five points with about five minutes left in the frame.
The Raptors momentum died a swift death soon after. Toronto didn’t score a basket over the final 3:43 of the frame and trailed 88-71 with one quarter left to play.
Toronto would come no closer than 14 points from that point on, and both coaches emptied their benches in the final dreadful minutes, sending fans to the exits well before the final buzzer.
These two teams met exactly one month earlier in L.A., but neither team was at full strength. The Raptors were missing both Lowry (fractured thumb) and Serge Ibaka (ankle strain) that night, while Anunoby left the game in the first two minutes after Leonard swatted him in the eye.
The Clippers were missing Paul George, who was recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
The Raptors hassled Leonard into one of his worst games of the season – 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting and a career-worst nine turnovers in the Clippers’ 99-88 win.
“I’d think it would be pretty hard to make him go 2-for-11 and nine turnovers, but it would be really cool if we could,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game.
With the much-anticipated return of Leonard – dubbed the King of the North last season – the night got off to an emotional start. Lowry presented Leonard with his ring, and the two hugged.
“I’m going to be connected with Kawhi for life because of what we achieved last year,” Nurse said. “And all of us that were in that locker-room are.”
“When the ball goes up, the reality is we gotta get to playing and do everything we can to try to beat a great basketball team. This is as deep a talented team as there is in the league.”
Anunoby led the way with nine points in a solid first quarter featuring some of the best basketball Toronto had played in a few games. The Raptors went into the second leading 32-27.
Toronto’s execution disappeared in a disastrous second quarter. The Raptors led by five early on, but a hook shot by Ivica Zubac capped a 28-10 Clippers lead that put the visitors up by 13 points. Five consecutive points by Williams sent L.A. into the locker-room at halftime with a 64-46 advantage.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.