Championship DNA

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Toronto Raptors Run Out of Gas in the Fourth, Kawhi Reigns Supreme

After an incredibly impressive victory on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Toronto Raptors continued their Staples Center back-to-back on Monday against the Clippers.

Playing without Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and losing OG Anunoby in the initial two minutes of the contest, the Raptors continued to hang tough with yet another Western Conference powerhouse. It was yet another classic Raptors contest – rugged, gritty, and one characterized by the defensive intensity. Despite being heavily undermanned, the Raptors were able to take a lead into the final frame, where the wheels finally began to fall off and the fatigue level was far too high to overcome.

“Our guys played their guts out. We totally outplayed them,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “We were playing harder, executing better, creating a lot of problems for them but just not quite enough.”

Outscored 25-10 in the final frame, the Raptors fell to the Clippers by a score 0f 98-88, in a game that showed far more about this Raptors team than any win has this season. I’m not the biggest believer in the concept of good losses on this level of basketball, but in an 82 game season, this was the sort of game that showed far more good than bad.

“That’s a hell of a team to play on a back-to-back short-handed,” Fred VanVleet said. “Just kind of ran ourselves into the mud and give those guys credit, they closed it out.”

These Raptors are a tough team to beat.

They are a confident bunch, they have the championship DNA, they are incredibly well coached and they defend – and boy do they ever defend.

“We’re not worried about that. We don’t really listen to the outside noise,” Norman Powell said following the Raptors upset road victory over the Lakers. “We stick to the internal beliefs. We know what we can do. We just go out there and compete at a high level. We believe in ourselves. That’s all that matters.”

A trend that will repeat itself throughout the year, the Raptors are by no means the most talented team in the NBA, far from it, but you will find it difficult to find many teams that play harder than this one.

“They’re a confident team,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said of the Raptors. “I call it the championship rub. You win a title and can lose five guys – the year after we lost Kevin Garnett half way through the year and we ended up a game from the Eastern Conference Finals. Guys believe they can win. Because they have won and they know how to win together. So you see them playing that way as a group.

“You can’t break that,” Rivers added. “They can be down 20 and you’re not going to break that confidence. You have to keep fighting against teams like that. That’s what they did last night (against the Lakers): They’re down and the next thing you know they won.”

After keeping Danny Green scoreless on Sunday, the Raptors pulled out all the stops on another former teammate in Kawhi Leonard on Monday night. The Raptors were suffocating, keeping The Klaw at bay with just 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting.

“We went obviously full guns on all the coverages on him to make life difficult for him and we did a good job on him,” said Nurse. “But he got some good transition buckets in the fourth, made some big shots for them when they needed them, which is what he does.”

As injuries continued to mount, the Raptors have received the clarity they needed during this road trip. Depth was a big question going in and it’s been answered.

These past two games have been Chris Boucher’s coming out party. The Canadian big man scored 13 points on 50-percent shooting off the bench, grabbed six boards, and his ability to protect the rim has been highlighted throughout the past three Raptors contests. He is long, mobile, and athletic and has six blocks and four steals to show for it during this road trip. Meanwhile, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has cemented his role in the team’s rotation for his hard-nosed on-ball defense and his ability to grind it out in the paint. Between Boucher, Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis and sporadic minutes from sharp-shooter Matt Thomas, the Raptors seem to have found something good with their second unit.

This Raptors team just keeps on truckin’!

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