There was plenty of scoring (223 points) and there were several highlight reel dunks, but 63 fouls and a slow, plodding pace made the Toronto Raptors' (26-24) 118-105 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers extra-ugly.
One game after allowing the Sacramento Kings to get to the line 51 times, the Raptors were even more foul-prone on Friday night, committing 35 personals and allowing L.A. to shoot 54 free throws (they made 37. Yes, that included a deliberate, hack-a-DeAndre strategy, but the approach would not have been necessary if they had managed to contain the imposing interior of Jordan and Blake Griffin, who posted 36 points on 13-18 shooting that included 19 first quarter points.
For Toronto, DeMar DeRozan provided a spark, tallying 36 points on 9-21 shooting and 17-19 free throws. However, the club wasn't connecting from long range (7-26, 26.9%) and failed to keep pace with the Clippers' high octane attack (they were outscored 28-8 in fast break points).
Say what you will about the tactic of intentionally fouling a traditionally poor free throw shooter (as a basketball fan, I hate it), but you can't argue that it was an effective tactic on Friday night. When Dwane Casey offered out-of-character instruction to foul Jordan midway through the third quarter, he was looking to cut into what was a 20-point L.A. lead. Even though Toronto wasn't totally able to capitalize on Jordan's 6-12 free throw shooting, the strategy de-energized an active L.A. attack, enabling the Raps to finish the quarter on an 11-1 run.
Between dunks, free throws and general points near the rim, there were an awful lot of easy points available to the Clips en route to their 118 points and 50.7% shooting. The Raptors, now 4-18 when allowing 100+ points this season, simply didn't put up the defensive resistance needed against L.A.
Both Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas were limited by foul trouble on Friday, but at least JV stuck around long enough to muster a double-double (11 points, 13 rebounds). Johnson, meanwhile, extended his recent struggles, fouling out after just 24 minutes on the floor while also finishing with a team-worst -18 rating. Johnson has reportedly been playing through an ankle sprain, with the lingering effects clearly having an impact on his performance. Since posting 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in December, his numbers in each category have dipped steadily in the two months since (9.5/6.0 in January, 6.0/5.8 in February).
Without much randomness to speak of, let's take a second to look at the current state of the Raptors. The 2-3 West swing doesn't necessarily spell trouble to Toronto, who still sport a three-game division lead. However, it does set up a critical two-game stretch heading into the All-Star break. A winnable home game over the Pelicans is followed by a key tilt against the Atlanta Hawks, whom they are engaged in a back-and-forth battle with for the No. 3 seed in the East. The Nets, meanwhile, have home games against the Pelicans and Bobcats before hitting the road for a visit to Chicago, offering an opportunity to make up some ground in the Atlantic.
I'd call it the Chris Paul Effect if not for the fact that Paul has missed almost 20 games for the Clippers. No, the growth of Jordan and Griffin has largely been of their own doing. Jordan has been less foul-prone while becoming smarter about how to best use his physical advantage. Griffin has remained aggressive while developing a more well-rounded game, improving his shot and turning himself into a multi-dimensional threat.
The road trip is done, but another Western challenge awaits back home in the form of Anthony Davis and the feisty Pelicans on Monday night (7:00pm, TSN2). The Pellies have won six of their last eight and seven of 10.
Prediction: Raps 104, Pelicans 99 (28-12 this season)