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Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard drives around L.A. Clippers guard Avery Bradley on Sunday.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse chuckled that Sunday’s victory was not the most intense game of basketball seen inside Scotiabank Arena. Nevertheless, during the dog days of a long NBA season, the Raptors drudged on through to a 121-103 win over the L.A. Clippers.

Kyle Lowry missed the game with lower-back soreness, but five Raptors scored in double digits, led by 18 points from Kawhi Leonard. Serge Ibaka had a 16-point, 12-rebound afternoon, while Pascal Siakam and C.J. Miles contributed 15 each and Delon Wright pitched in 14.

Luckily, some other themes added flickers of intrigue, such as a talented Canadian kid on the court and an interesting person sitting courtside.

The matinee game began just hours before the Super Bowl, and many, from the quieter-than-usual fans to the teams, seemed preoccupied. Both coaches had it on the brain. Doc Rivers joked before the game that Super Bowl Sunday should be a holiday. Nurse once again professed his fandom for the Los Angeles Rams and for retired St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, with whom he’d gone to college at Northern Iowa.

First, there was a basketball game to play, one Rivers projected would be a tall order for his squad. The Clips had played a 5 p.m. game on Saturday in Detroit and travelled overnight to face a Raptors team that had been at home since last playing on Thursday.

That did seem to be the case. The Raps took advantage of L.A.’s 6-foot-2 Avery Bradley defending 6-foot-8 Leonard, got him in foul trouble, and built a healthy first-half lead.

“I thought our flow, we started the game with great flow, and we ended up throwing it to Kawhi four or five times in a row, just because he had a favourable matchup and guys were in foul trouble,” Fred VanVleet said. “So you always try to take advantage of those moments.”

The player VanVleet was defending while starting for Lowry was Hamilton, Ont., native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Clippers rookie starting point guard having an impressive season and playing his first NBA game back home in Canada.

The young Canadian, who was selected to the Rising Stars Challenge for NBA all-star weekend, showed off an array of skills, from ball distribution to rebound, floating layups and steals. He led the Clips with 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting, plus five rebounds, a couple of blocked shots and three assists in 26 minutes.

“He’s been terrific, way ahead of schedule. I don’t know when in the season we thought we were going to start him, but we ended up starting him in like, Game 10,” Rivers said of the Hamiltonian Los Angeles selected 11th over all in the 2018 NBA draft. “I think he can be great. He better be. I tell him that every day. I say ‘if you’re not great, it’s my fault and yours’.”

He is a big reason why the Clippers, 29-25, are in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference.

“I always thought I’d make it to the NBA,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who said he had watched lots of Raptors games in Toronto as a kid in the Chris Bosh era, up in the nosebleed seats. “I’ve always been a dreamer, I guess, and set my goals and try to achieve them.”

Gilgeous-Alexander was not the only intriguing person who came to town with the Clippers on Sunday. Steve Ballmer, their billionaire owner and the former chief executive officer of Microsoft, made the trip to snowy, cold Toronto, too, and sat courtside. It naturally sparked lots of conversation among fans on social media and intensified the mystery over whether enigmatic superstar Leonard will resign with Toronto next season, or join another team such as his hometown Clippers.

After the game, everyone was rather hurried, rushing through news conferences to get to a TV set as the Super Bowl was set to begin.

The Raptors improved to 38-16. They hit the road for games in Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York.

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