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Toronto Raptors

Picking up the pace: Are the Toronto Raptors at their best when they play fast?

#Siakam Lowry

Kawhi Leonard missed his seventh game of the season on Tuesday night sitting out with a hip injury, but it didn't seem to matter as the Raptors cruised to a 24-point blowout win over the LA Clippers.

Without Leonard in the lineup, Toronto moved to 6-1 on the season - which speaks to their depth. Most teams that have to play without their star player are at a disadvantage, and yet the Raptors have shown they can still manage to not only be respectable, but they can still be dangerous.

A lot of that has to do to the style of play the team has been forced to take on with Leonard out of the lineup. When Kawhi sits, the Raptors don't take a step back, they actually step on the gas.

Through 29 games this season, the Raptors are sitting in the middle of the pack overall in pace of play with Leonard on the court at 101.0. When he has been off the floor, that number jumps up to 104.3, which would be top three in the entire league.

Playing fast doesn't necessarily mean success. The Hawks have the fastest pace in the entire league but have the second-worst record. However, out of the top five teams in pace, only the Hawks aren't currently over .500.

It's more evidence of the new NBA and the way in which the game is trending - speed not only kills, it wins too.

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Sure Not Now

Crunch Time

Toronto's pace falls even more down the stretch of tightly contested games. According to NBA.com, only the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets have played at a slower rate in the clutch season, defined as the last five minutes of a five-point game.

Teams usually play at a slightly slower pace when it matters most, but the Raptors become noticeably more reliant on Leonard in crunch time. Not only does his usage rate skyrocket to a James Harden-like 40.8 percent, the next highest on the team is Lowry at only 18.8 percent.

While Leonard has been an efficient clutch scorer this season, turnovers have been an issue. The only player in the league to have coughed up the ball more times is Nikola Jokic, but he's logged nearly 20 more clutch minutes than the Raptors star on the season.

Most of those turnovers from Leonard have come in the same way, with him attacking a set defence while the rest of his teammates stand and wait for him to create something.

The Raptors still have a winning record in the clutch, but some of their tendencies in those situations point to bigger issues, one of them being the alienation of Lowry.

The impact on Kyle Lowry

It's no secret that Lowry went through a slump prior to breaking out of it on Tuesday against the Clippers with 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Lowry was a plus-30 while on the floor, second only to Danny Green's plus-34.

He's also been brilliant every time Leonard has been out. With Leonard off the court, Lowry's usage rate naturally goes up from 16.3 to 21.7, but the biggest jump is the pace in which he plays, going from 101.5 to 107.1.

Normally, when a point guard plays that fast turnovers, bad shots or simple mistakes follow - none of which is the case with Lowry.

Situation

USG%

TS%

AST/TO

TO Ratio

Lowry with Leonard

16.3

54.5

41.0

11.6

Lowry without Leonard

21.7

60.4

38.1

10.7

At the end of the day, the Raptors will only go as far as both Lowry and Leonard take them - no one is disputing that. However, with the effectiveness in which the Raptors can play at one of the fastest paces in the NBA, in a league that's trending towards rewarding that pace anyway, maybe it's time for Nick Nurse to push the pace a bit more with Leonard in the lineup.

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