USA TODAY Sports
The Blazers win an ugly contest with enough transition and paint points to leave the Raptors in the dust.
If you want a quarter-by-quarter recap of this contest, you can find Timmay's here. Or you could just simulate it yourself by preparing a nice-sized bowl of your favorite oatmeal, then adding about a half pound of freshly-ground skunk. The only real redeeming feature of this game was that the Blazers won it.
The Blazers played this game without starters Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Under normal circumstances that sentence would start "in their defense" but truthfully, people are already starting to write me about injury bugs and curses and "woe is us". I'm all on board with that sentiment when referencing the last generation of Trail Blazers players. But at this point the correct response to angst over injuries is, "Too bad!" You have to remember this team was built this way. Every time you nodded to the refrain of, "We're not spending money on players who don't move the needle" this summer you were also nodding in approval of, "We're going to be thinner than the Olsen Twins and any injury to a significant player will disproportionately impact this team." That doesn't make the decision to conserve resources wrong. It does mean Blazer fans don't get to whine about not having veterans to fill spots when guys go down, nor about any eventual losses that come because of it. This was a win, of course, but it's a pretty sure bet that if the Blazers repeat this kind of performance against a team north of Toronto on the quality scale Portland will be wearing the 74-point mantle while the opponent busts 100.
As for this game, both teams played semi-rotten, uncoordinated defense but both were too polite to expose each other. It's like they made a compact to not hit shots. Portland needed a strong fourth period to reach 40% as a team. The Raptors never came close, finishing the game at 35%. The Blazers shot 0-20 from three-point range. (Bet you a quarter this will be the only game they win all season when that happens.) Portland won because of three factors. First, forcing more turnovers and snagging a couple more offensive rebounds allowed Portland 89 shots on goal to Toronto's 74. With both teams shooting like paraplegic goats through most of the contest, extra shots provided the edge. Second, Portland generated more points in transition, leading the Raptors 17-2 on the break. Third, and most significantly, Portland's bigs obliterated Toronto's. Andrea Bargnani stunk up the joint and then left with an injury, almost a mercy at that point. Amir Johnson got ejected for playing tug of war with a referee over the ball. Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas actually gave a good accounting of themselves but LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson did better, playing like men among boys. Portland ended up with 54 points in the paint to Toronto's 26. This gives the Raptors the unquestioned crown for Worst Defense in the League. If you can't keep Portland from scoring in the paint you can't stop anyone down there.
How bad was it? Aldridge and the point guards ran pick and roll and Aldridge actually rolled. He scored too.
The Blazers did a couple other things well. They committed only 7 turnovers despite playing a patchwork lineup. They hit 20 of 22 free throws. The fourth period featured some great buckets and physical play on Portland's part, clearly the most sustained effort of the night. Still, the Raptor Asterisk looms over everything one could say. "A Win Is a Win" is the only accurate way to describe this game. We'll leave it at that.
LaMarcus Aldridge was a monster tonight. Not only were the Raptors helpless against him, they all but bowed in homage every time he took the lane. LMA looked like the only guy on either team who could really play...and really play he did. 11-19 shots, 30 points, plenty of inside work, 12 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, smashy smashy.
J.J. Hickson did not miss from the field tonight, hitting 7 of 7, scoring 16, grabbing 11 rebounds, and showing Toronto what a real not-center looks like. Again, the Raptors just couldn't deal with him.
I'm not sure the Raptors dealt with Damian Lillard as much as Lillard dealt with himself. He had good looks...good by his standards anyway. The shot just wasn't there. He tried to shoot his way out of it for a while and instead shot himself into a 2-14 night, good mostly because it wasn't 2-15. He kept his cool, though. He didn't overdo it. He made a couple nice passes and drives. He took his 9 points but also gave 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
Victor Claver started this game. His most notable contributions came defensively. He got around the floor, kept engaged, got his hands on a couple of steals and 5 rebounds. His 2-12 shooting night could have been better. Then again those two buckets comprised his very first points in the NBA, so what do you expect? For a guy whose starting assignment is the equivalent of calling 911 and saying, "My lineup is on fire!" I thought he played pretty well.
I expected a little more of the more-experienced Sasha Pavlovic, the other new starter. He delivered with 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in 42 minutes. I suppose the equivalent here is a bullpen pitcher who eats innings in place of the normal starter. He got the Blazers through plenty of minutes without hurting them and made the right play even though his stuff wasn't overwhelming.
Nolan Smith was clearly the star off the bench tonight, playing both guard positions and getting to the rim frequently. His aggression was controlled tonight. He read the floor and made some excellent passes. He scored 11 on 4-10 shooting with 3 assists in 21 minutes. Bravo.
Will Barton regressed where Smith stepped forward. On a night where shooting guard minutes were begging to be taken he managed only 12, missed his only shot, and mostly drifted around looking like he wanted to do something but never managing to figure out what.
Luke Babbitt and Damian Lillard must have eaten the same omelette for breakfast because Babbitt couldn't hit a shot either, firing 2-9, 0-5 from three-point range, for 4 points and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes. He also collected 4 fouls. It wasn't a true Bad Babbitt outing but it trended more towards his familiar level of play than his recent excellence. All may be forgiven, though, thanks to a monster dunk that's bound to show up on YouTube somewhere.
Meyers Leonard was on the receiving end of a nice Smith pass for a slam and followed a fast break with another dunk. Those were highlights in a night when he otherwise played unproductively. He had but 1 rebound, shuffled on defense, didn't look like he was engaged with the game plan.
Jared Jeffries did fine in 10 minutes, collecting 4 rebounds and a block.
The Spurs come jingle-jangling into town on Thursday. The Blazers better hope Batum and Matthews feel better before then...or that Gregg Popovich decides to collect himself another fine or two.
Raptors HQ has an almost impossible task: describing the same ugly game but from the viewpoint of the losing side. What's worse than skunk-laden oatmeal? Click over there to find out.