Harden’s triple-double leads Clippers past Raptors

Toronto Raptors rookie Gradey Dick is getting on-the-job training from head coach Darko Rajakovic, even in the middle of games.

Dick fouled future Hall of Famer James Harden early in the second quarter of Toronto’s lopsided 127-107 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. Rajakovic immediately went over to the 20-year-old forward for a one-on-one conversation as officials reviewed the play.

“I walked over to him with a smile on, he had a smile too,” said Dick, who knew he’d made a mistake when he put his foot in Harden’s landing space. “Communication like that, where it’s positive, that definitely helps me as a player where I can personally learn like that and he knows that to.”

After the chat with Rajakovic, veteran forwards Chris Boucher, Thad Young, and Garrett Temple also came over to Dick to review the intricacies of guarding one of the NBA’s top players.

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“It’s great, it’s like having multiple coaches going at one-time, especially with Thad and Garrett, when they’ve been in league for so long and the knowledge that they have,” said Dick. “But in that particular play, it’s more like I’m talking to them knowing exactly what they’re gonna say because, yeah, I landed under him.”

Harden finished with 22 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds, for his 75th career triple-double, the eighth most in NBA history. Rajakovic was forgiving of Dick’s mistake as the rookie is playing more minutes with Toronto’s roster thinned by injuries and trades.

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“That’s a moment when a rookie sees a Hall of Famer and even though we showed him film and talked about it, until you go through it, it’s hard to comprehend,” said Rajakovic. “It was really understanding the game plan, understanding the personnel, and this is what James Harden is doing for a decade now.”

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Former Raptor Kawhi Leonard scored 16 points and added seven rebounds as Los Angeles (29-14) won its fourth straight. Russell Westbrook scored 20 points off the bench and Mason Plumlee had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

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Scottie Barnes had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists as Toronto (16-29) lost its fourth straight game.

RJ Barrett of Mississauga, Ont., scored 22 points and pulled down six rebounds as the Raptors had five players reach double digits in scoring. It was Barrett’s eighth 20-point performance in just 13 games since he was traded from the New York Knicks to Toronto on Dec. 30.

“I didn’t play good today, honestly” said Barrett, noting he had three turnovers and was minus-27. “But having an opportunity to just play, just move around cuts, and transition.

“Just playing, you know? A little more freedom over here, for sure.”

The Raptors’ starting lineup was without centre Jakob Poeltl and guard Immanuel Quickley. Poeltl was out a sprained left ankle and Quickley was off with a right-thigh contusion.

Young started at centre and Bruce Brown at guard in their place. Young matched a season-high 12 points with six rebounds.

Leonard got a loud ovation from the sold-out crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena during pre-game introductions, with Raptors fans remembering his critical role in helping Toronto win its only NBA title in 2019.

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“Everybody knows what I’ve done here, how special that year was, and they’re very thankful for it,” said Leonard. “Every time I come I get a good response.”

Norman Powell, who spent the first 5 1/2 seasons of his NBA career in Toronto and was also part of the 2019 championship team, got his own warm welcome when he came off the bench nearly seven minutes into the game.

BRATE LOVE — Toronto head coach Darko Rajakovic wore a shirt to his pre-game news conference that read BRATE across the chest. Brate, pronounced BRAH’-teh, is the Serbian word for brother. The shirt was designed by the Golden State Warriors to honour Dejan Milojevic, an assistant coach who died suddenly on Jan. 17. Rajakovic and Milojevic were close friends and Golden State head coach Steve Kerr sent Rajakovic and the Raptors coaching staff the shirts so that they could also honour their friend.

UP NEXT — The Raptors begin a six-game road trip on Sunday with a stop in Atlanta against the Hawks.

Los Angeles’s east-coast swing continues with a stop against the Boston Celtics (35-10).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.

&copy 2024 The Canadian Press

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