The Toronto Raptors scattered over two countries for the holidays. Some stayed in Canada for Christmas, and others headed to their off-season homes across the border in the United States.
There were plenty of options during the team’s four-day break, the perfect gift from the NBA schedule makers.
Meanwhile, the Clippers were schlepping from place to place, traveling from Atlanta back to Southern California for a Christmas night game against the Golden State Warriors that concluded a stretch of three games in four days.
Given the discrepancy in their itineraries, the Clippers’ game against the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors on Saturday seemed almost like a scheduled loss.
And that’s pretty much the way things played out, the Clippers continually a step slow on defense for much of a 110-98 defeat at Staples Center that halted their eight-game home winning streak.
“A few of us said it right before tipoff,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick acknowledged afterward. “We were like, ‘Man, it feels like we played last night.’ ”
But if fatigue was the overriding factor, it wasn’t something the Clippers were willing to tout after giving up triple digits in points for the sixth time in seven games.
“It’s going to have to come defensively,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who made only three of 12 shots on the way to 10 points and eight assists. “You have to find a way.”
The Clippers couldn’t, failing to stop point guard Kyle Lowry (25 points), center Jonas Valanciunas (22 points, 11 rebounds) or just about anyone during Toronto’s 13-2 run to start the fourth quarter.
Much of the Raptors’ late push came against a second unit of Clippers that included Jordan Farmar, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Reggie Bullock and Jamal Crawford. By the time the starters began trickling back into the game with nine minutes to play, the Clippers were trailing by 13 points.
They could take no more than two points off that deficit the rest of the way in their first home defeat since Nov. 17 to Chicago.
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he sensed his team was in trouble when it led by as many as eight points in the second quarter but failed to extend the advantage into double figures.
“When we didn’t, because we put out so much effort to do it, I was concerned going into the second half,” Rivers said.
The difference in the teams’ crispness was illustrated in their respective abilities to execute a play the Clippers usually master: the lob dunk. Valanciunas and Terrence Ross threw down alley-oop passes with ease, while the Clippers twice botched lobs, though Blake Griffin complained to referees that he had been hit on the arm on one of the failed attempts.
Griffin finished with 22 points but needed 20 shots to get there, making nine. Center DeAndre Jordan had four points and 20 rebounds for the Clippers, and Crawford added 20 points.
Most of the Clippers’ struggles came on the other side of the ball, where they had equal difficulty defending the interior and the perimeter. Toronto made 12 of 25 three-pointers (48%), many without an opposing player within five feet of the shooter.
Redick said the Clippers’ defensive breakdowns are largely a function of their schedule.
“We haven’t practiced, we maybe have done one shoot-around,” said Redick, who made five of nine three-pointers and finished with a team-high 23 points. “We play a lot of games with not a lot of days to work on our stuff, so I’m not surprised. It’s every team I’ve ever been on where you go through a stretch that we’ve been on. You have some slippage.”
Then again, the schedule catches up to almost every NBA team at some point.
“We can’t use that as an excuse, especially for a team that wants to do something in the postseason,” Clippers forward Glen Davis said of fatigue. “They came out here and beat us.”