Tonight’s the night. Kawhi vs. The Raptors. Kawhi vs. Siakam.
Okay, technically it’s Kawhi Leonard’s new team – the Los Angeles Clippers – hosting the Raptors at 10:30 p.m. but however you frame it, this game is definitely warrants staying up to watch.
Oh, and if you’re wondering whether Drake, the Raptor ambassador extraordinaire, will be courtside, who knows? Champagne Papi may still be smarting from being booed offstage Sunday at the Camp Flog Gnaw Festival in Los Angeles. It appears the angry fans had been expecting Frank Ocean as the final act, and not Drizzy.
Kawhi, who led the Raptors to the NBA championship less than six months ago, opted to return to his California home rather than sign with Toronto. He’s been roundly criticized in the U.S. media for continuing the controversial practice of load management that worked so well for him last year in We The North land.
Still, despite opting for warmer temperatures, Kawhi still has a warm spot in his heart for The6ix.
“The guys, the journey, also the country, the city, it was amazing,” Leonard told the media Saturday night. “There’s just so much you could keep going on and talking about.”
And though he’s looking forward to seeing – and beating – his former teammates tonight.
“It’s a former team that I won a championship with, but it’s like any other game,” Kawhi said. “It’s going to be fun to see the guys again and congratulate them and be able to shake hands and compete.”
Tonight also marks the first head-to-head clash between Kawhi, the NBA playoff MVP and emerging Raptor Pascal Siakam, who has taken his game to a whole new level.
Despite loving his time in Toronto, Kawhi remains certain he made the right decision in signing with the Clippers.
“I’m able to see my family after the games. I’m in Southern California, beautiful weather. I’m at my house. So, everything’s been good,” Leonard said.
The Raptors are coming off a thrilling come-from-behind, short-handed 113-104 victory last night over the L.A. Lakers and LeBron James. Meeting the Clippers in a back-to-back is less than ideal, particularly for a team with so many injuries.
According to the Las Vegas betting line, the Lakers were 10.5-point favourites to win last night.
Writing in his blog, the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith warned fans not to read too much into the “upset” win but to savour the team’s work ethic.
“And I know it’s one of 82 and maybe it’s not sustainable but that kind of effort is going to be fun to watch even on nights when shots don’t go in and the other guys play well and the result is different,” Smith wrote.
“And, you know, over the course of a long season that’s truly just a prelude to the playoffs, that’s going to be just fine with me.”
Star columnist Bruce Arthur summed the current status of the Kawhi-less Raptors, stating the hard-fought win over the Lakers shows the team might be just one player away from competing for the championship again this season.
“Now, this new Raptors team has been enjoyable and admirable, but was also dangerously thin before Kyle Lowry fractured his left thumb in New Orleans Friday, and before Serge Ibaka badly sprained his ankle,” wrote Arthur.
“The bench could have included cheap buys like Willie Cauley-Stein or Justin Holiday, but the wait for Kawhi killed all that. Lowry was playing magnificent load-bearing minutes, and VanVleet has been holding up the ceiling alongside him, and it was always a growing worry one or both would pop eventually. Now Lowry’s out at least two weeks, and the roaring Ibaka maybe longer.”
The Clippers will be without the injured George Paul. For tonight’s game Sportsbooks list the Clippers as 10.5-point home favorites.
Following tonight’s game, the Raptors continue their five-game road trip playing the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday and then the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
Kawhi and the Clippers will be in Toronto Dec. 11 for a return match.