The Clippers' starters won their part of the game, the reserves lost theirs and the result was an ugly 112-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday at Air Canada Centre. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. If the opponent is elite, the Clippers seem beat. The Clippers are now a combined 0-8 against the top three teams in the Western and Eastern Conferences after getting swept in the season series by the Toronto Raptors. They have also lost twice to the Golden State Warriors and once each to the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. The Clippers have been close against the best teams in the West, holding a lead in the fourth quarter of each of their four losses. The top East teams have handled the Clippers with a bit more ease. The Raptors pose matchup problems for the Clippers with their quick guards. "We've got to figure it out," Clippers point guard Chris Paul said, "because hopefully we'll meet them at some point" in the playoffs.
2. The Clippers' bench needed to be benched against the Raptors. The reserves committed nine of the team's 13 turnovers and were outscored, 51-29, by their Toronto counterparts. "There's going to be nights like this," Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said. "It just felt like one of those nights where none of them could really find that rhythm or fight to get that unit going." Was it one of those games where Paul wanted to stay on the floor when Coach Doc Rivers was ready to sub him out? "Yeah, I'm sure," Rivers said, "but you've got to play everybody."
3. Paul continued his recent stellar play. He had 23 points and 11 assists, continuing a surge of production in which he's averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 assists while shooting 48.1% over his last 10 games. Paul is widely expected to be selected by coaches as a reserve for the All-Star game when the rest of the rosters are announced later this week.
4. There was a Lance Stephenson sighting. The forward who has had his playing time drastically reduced since Pablo Prigioni and Cole Aldrich became regulars in the second unit last month had a solid seven minutes, scoring eight points on four-for-four shooting to go with two rebounds. Now the former Indiana Pacer gets to return to Indianapolis on Tuesday after having played his best game of the season against the Pacers in December, when he scored 19 points.
5. Blake Griffin has returned to Los Angeles and will not play during the rest of the Clippers' trip. The all-star power forward has not suffered a setback in his recovery from a quadriceps injury, a team spokesman said, but he is still working back into game shape and wants to make sure he is ready before making his return. The Clippers finish their five-game trip with contests against Indiana on Tuesday and Atlanta on Wednesday, having won 11 of their 14 games since Griffin was sidelined the day after Christmas by a partially torn left quadriceps tendon. "I mean, we're winning games, it's all good and well," Paul said after a victory over the New York Knicks on Friday, "but we won't see what our team is made of until Blake gets back." Griffin is also considered doubtful for the Clippers' game against the Lakers on Jan. 29 at Staples Center, and there remains no definitive timetable for his return.