The Toronto Raptors delivered a pitch perfect pregame tribute to Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard, who spent last season with the Raptors and helped lead the team to its first title in franchise history, generally gets announced last in the Clippers starting lineup, right before Doc Rivers. The Raptors elected to announce Leonard after Rivers, leading right into a tribute video that highlighted the best moments of Leonard's year in Toronto. The reigning Finals MVP appeared to show some real emotion during the presentation.
The production then went to another level as the Scotiabank Arena went dark and animated footsteps lit up Leonard's path to the four-bounce series-ending game-winner to defeat Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
As the lights came back on and the arena celebrated the final stages of Toronto's championship run, Leonard's former teammates and members of the front office lined up to welcome him at half court. Kyle Lowry presented Leonard with his championship ring to an obvious, deserved standing ovation. Spoiler alert: it looks like the ring fits!
It was a flawlessly-executed tribute befitting a star who led this team to previously unreached heights, even if he only spent one season donning a Toronto uniform.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, their in-game execution left a little to be desired.
After the emotional ceremony pregame, the Raptors held serve with the favored Clippers for one quarter, then cratered in the second quarter as LA capped off a memorable night with a comfortable win, 112-92.
Leonard had 23 points to lead the Clippers against his former team, and the bench duo of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell added 18 and 10, including 17 combined in the second quarter when LA outscored Toronto 37-14.
The Clippers had balanced scoring from up and down their roster despite three absent rotation players. Patrick Patterson and Patrick Beverley each scored 11, while Paul George had 13, and Moe Harkless had a season-high 14.
The game was won on the defensive end, as LA held the Raptors to 35.2% shooting from the field, including 8-of-36 from 3-point range. Toronto was without starting guard Fred VanVleet, and missed his ability to put pressure on the basket, but it may not have mattered with the way the Clippers put the clamps on their opposition.
The Clippers continue to utilize zone to great effect as a way of simplifying the team's scheme when Leonard, and so many other players, are unavailable. The versatility of their roster makes mixing and matching defenses not only feasible, but effective; for example, Harkless has become the de facto point guard stopper for the Clippers, but also played the back line of the 2-3 zone.
The bench had squandered leads over consecutive games, but the zone has stabilized the second unit defense, allowing the team's sixth and seventh men to continue to wreak havoc on the offensive end.
The win was the third straight for the Clippers, who have rebounded nicely from a blowout defeat to begin their six-game road trip. Along with the existing injuries to Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, and JaMychal Green, the team will await news on Beverley, who left the game early with a concussion after running through a Marc Gasol screen.
Minnesota, currently in the midst of a five-game losing streak, awaits the Clippers Friday.