Raptors attack Kawhi Leonard with double teams, but Clippers still get 98-88 win

Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

LOS ANGELES -- Early on during their lone season together in Toronto, Raptors coach Nick Nurse learned that Kawhi Leonard was difficult to rattle.

Emotionally, the star forward was never too high, never too low, and as the most valuable player of an NBA Finals, he'd seen nearly everything in the NBA.

But then, within last season's first week, Leonard was double-teamed so forcefully, and constantly, by one opponent that it "startled" both Leonard and the Raptors, Nurse recalled.

The coach kept the strategy in his back pocket. Almost exactly a year later, Nurse put it to use Monday night, this time against Leonard.

"As soon as I walked across half court," Leonard said, "they were trying to get the ball out of my hands."

Facing the team he won an NBA title with last season for the first time since picking the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency, Leonard faced Raptors double-teams from start to finish Monday at Staples Center, finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists but also nine turnovers.

Statistically, it was his least-impactful performance of the season. But there was also something else Nurse learned during his one-on-one meetings with Leonard last season. All he cared about, Leonard would reiterate, was winning. And Monday, despite the frenzied coverages he faced -- none of which he remembered the Raptors using last season -- Leonard emerged pleased from a reunion that resembled a slugfest.

The Clippers had won, 98-88.

"It wasn't one of those nights for me," he said, "and we came out with a win."


The Clippers shot 37% from the field and 22% on three-pointers but grabbed 66 rebounds and played a tall lineup late in the fourth quarter that helped them wrest control of a back-and-forth game for good.

"What'd they have, 10 points in the fourth quarter?" coach Doc Rivers said. "This was one of those defensive wins."

Lou Williams scored a team-high 21 points and Montrezl Harrell added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers (7-3), who begin a two-game road trip Wednesday at Houston with the knowledge that even with their star unable to play his best, they still can win.

"We can still lock people up and get stops and win a game like that," center Ivica Zubac said.

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