Ibaka, Lowry lead Raptors to easy win over LeBron and the Lakers

LOS ANGELES — It sounds easy protecting a 31-point lead. But what’s tough to overcome is that feeling that the game is over.

In a game in which the Raptors were without Kawhi Leonard for the third time this season and got out to a 31-point lead on the host Lakers extremely early in the proceedings, taking their foot off the gas was a definite concern in a 121-107 win.

To the Raptors credit that never happened for any significant length of time.

The Lakers managed to get the deficit down to 17 at one point in the third and then all the way down to 10 in the fourth, forcing Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse to bring his starters back but that was as close as they would get.

Fittingly it was Kyle Lowry who ended the threat first by drawing an offensive charge on Kyle Kuzma and then getting into the paint and setting up Pascal Siakam with his 15th assist of the night.

For most of the night the Lakers looked every bit the team on the back-end of a back-to-back having won in Portland on Saturday night while the Raptors were cooling their collective heels in L.A. waiting for them to return.

Led by Serge Ibaka, who didn’t miss a shot until his 15th of the night late in the third, the Raptors were in full control of this one from the opening tip. Yes Los Angeles scored the first basket and actually had two leads, the second with 1:03 gone in the game but never again led.

Ibaka wound up with a career best 34 on the night on 15-of-16 shooting.

If that didn’t impress then certainly Lowry’s line – 21 points, 15 assists and six rebounds did.

Leonard sat out with a sore left foot that he injured late in the win over Phoenix on Friday. It was tough to say he was missed.

As good as Ibaka was on the offensive end it was almost as good defensively. He finished the night a plus-30 and was a huge deterrent at the rim all night.

The Raptors will have no time to rest heading straight to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz Monday night.

BENCH MOB GETTING HEALTHY

Get ready to start heaping praise on the Raptors other unit.

Yes, to date the accolades and the biggest reason this team has been winning has been almost exclusively the starting five.

Lowry, Leonard, Danny Green, Siakam and Ibaka, more often than Jonas Valanciunas, have been that group.

But we got a little taste of what is coming Friday in Phoenix from a suddenly healthy Raptors bench.

Back in were Fred VanVleet who joined a recently returned Delon Wright. They also laid out the welcome back mat for OG Anunoby in that win over Phoenix.

The result was a group that came in midway through the third quarter and turned a game that was still in doubt with the Raptors leading by three to a no-doubter with an 18-point lead by the time Nurse starting bringing his starters back in.

You remember the bench mob of a year ago. The group that didn’t just hold leads, they extended them, often established them a year ago in easily the deepest roster the Raptors have ever had.

Anunoby, who spent most of last season with the starters was back up there last night in Los Angeles with Leonard ruled out with a sore foot.

But that still leaves VanVleet and Wright back in and ready to do some real damage alongside CJ Miles, who is finding his stroke of late, Norm Powell who has that confident swagger back from two seasons ago and whichever centre isn’t starting.

Injuries have prevented that group from getting together much … until now.

VanVleet is still going to be somewhat hampered by the turf toe he’s dealing with but he can play on it and eventually he’ll get to 100%.

Wright is getting back to 100% himself, but like VanVleet, his conditioning still has a ways to go.

With Nurse dealing with his own health issues (a bit of laryngitis) assistant Nick Bjorkgren took over his media duties on Saturday and expressed his approval of what the bench is starting to show.

“(They) came in and did a nice job defensively,” Bjorkgren said. “I thought they changed the game. There was a time in the third quarter there where we strung bunch of stops together and had some deflections, and it created offense. You’re gonna see different lineups and different groups, and it’s just all part of it. We were pleased Friday night. They played hard.”

Bjorkgren wasn’t on the Raptors’ bench a year ago but he is well versed in how good and how important they are to this team.

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“Sure, I’m aware, and the bench did some nice things,” Bjorkgren said. “That’s just part of different lineups coming off the bench, as well. We’ve seen glimpses of them being great defensively and being great offensively. I think Friday night was maybe that first time they put that longer stretch of it together.”

Green is another newcomer to Toronto’s locker room but he played against that bench a year ago and saw first-hand their impact.

“Sixth Men of the Year,” Green said paying that group the ultimate compliment. “ They’re a big part of what we do, a big piece of everything we’re involved in offensively and defensively. I expect them to come back full health within the next couple of weeks. Obviously, they’re healthy enough to play but I don’t think they’re 100%, especially with wind. You take a week off, your conditioning goes away. So Fred is gonna get his wind back and Delon’s gonna get his wind back and get back into game shape and do what they normally do for the past couple years for us this year, and it’ll be a big plus for us off the bench.”

That the Raptors have jumped out to an 8-1 record without much of a boost from its bench is a testament to how good the starters have been but also an indication this team is only beginning to show what they are capable of doing this season.

“It’s a great sign,” Green said before going into caution mode. “But at the same time, we know what we have to do, and that’s just be more mature with how we close out games, how we finish out quarters. We can’t be up a certain amount of points and let teams continually get back into it. That comes with maturity. When we have those guys back (at full throttle), that will definitely help as well, to keep those teams at bay where we’d like to keep them, when we’re up 10, 15 points. The potential, though, just scratching the surface of what we could be, it’s a pretty good sign.”

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LEONARD MISSES GAME

For the second time in a week Leonard is not available for an NBA prime time matchup.

Only this time it’s not rest but a sore left foot that kept him out of Sunday night’s clash with LeBron James and the Lakers exactly six days after he was rested against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Leonard hurt the foot late in the win over Phoenix and while he and the coaching staff downplayed the seriousness of the injury, the decision to sit him out in L.A. was made.

The Raptors play again Monday in Utah against the Jazz and Nurse would only said “I hope so” when asked first if he would play and then if he would travel with the team.

It was pretty much a given that Leonard would sit out one of the two back-to-back games as both the team and the player are very conscious of easing him back into action after nearly a full season missed.

But the possibility exists that he doesn’t play either game.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies