Toronto had made so many shots in Tuesday’s third quarter that by the time Delon Wright missed a three-pointer from the wing, the crowd at Staples Center let out a sigh of relief.
The shot hit the front of the rim and caromed nearly to midcourt where two Clippers, Patrick Beverley and Tyrone Wallace, each could have reached out, grabbed the ball and started a fastbreak with a minute to play in the quarter.
Instead, they looked at each other, unsure who would take it, and Raptors forward Pascal Siakam burst into the space between them during the extra beat of uncertainty, grabbed the loose ball and fired it to the corner, where Kyle Lowry lofted a perfect swish for a three-pointer.
On the bench, several Clippers leaned back in their seats and looked up, with blank faces, at a scoreboard showing a 32-point Raptors lead.
Playing on the second consecutive night and without guard Lou Williams because of a hamstring injury, the Clippers fell behind by 13 after the first quarter and came close only once afterward during a 123-99 loss. Boban Marjanovic scored a team-high 18 points off the bench in 15 minutes. The Clippers’ starting lineup produced 35 points.
The Raptors also played without a top offensive player — Kawhi Leonard, the injured star whom the Clippers covet and almost certainly will attempt to sign in free agency next summer — yet it didn’t matter a bit.
The Raptors (22-7) showed it, shooting 52.1% and sending the Clippers (17-10) to their fourth loss in six games. The slide has coincided with defensive struggles.
Amid their ascension to the top of the Western Conference during their first 21 games, the Clippers ranked 14th in the NBA by allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions — not quite the elite, ball-stopping unit they believed they could be in the preseason, yet still better than the league average.
In their five games entering Tuesday, the Clippers had fallen to 22nd in the same metric, four points worse per 100 possessions. The team also tumbled from fifth to 24th in net rating — the difference between points scored and allowed per 100 possessions — and after losing to Toronto, they’re tied with the Lakers for fourth in the West.
The loss showed that five-game stretch of poor defense was no outlier. Toronto made 59.5% of its field goals through three quarters. By halftime, four Raptors had scored in double figures. By the end, there were six.
“From the start you could see them pushing the pace at us the entire game and we really never caught up to it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We played an overtime game last night, the schedule we’ve been on, we can make all the excuses and we have them but we don’t have to take them. I thought tonight we just gave into their offensive pressure. I thought they played downhill the entire night.”
Serge Ibaka scored a game-high 25 points and added nine rebounds. Lowry, who’d struggled to 3.8 points in his previous four games while shooting 14.3%, found a cure to what ailed him in the Clippers, finishing with 21 points on eight-of-13 shooting.
Even without Williams, a Clippers bench of Milos Teodosic, Wallace, Beverley, Mike Scott and Montrezl Harrell was effective in the second quarter, trimming a 13-point deficit to four with 7:43 to play before halftime. The bench’s play was the only positive Rivers took from the performance, but it couldn’t save the Clippers.
The Raptors responded by outscoring L.A. 15-7 during the next four minutes and opened the third quarter on a 7-2 run. The floodgates opened during that quarter as the Clippers were outscored 33-17.
“We played a good team today,” Beverley said. “Today showed we need a lot of work, which is fine, which is totally fine. We’ll get better. It’s a long season. We have no other choice but to get better.”