Ever find an old mix tape you made years ago but there's no label on it? You look it at, and while it's vaguely familiar you can't for the life of you remember what's on it. You're kind of interested in what's on there but its so scratched you figure there's no way it's actually playable. Even so, it's worth a shot so you pick it up to play later.
Tonight's matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Toronto Raptors is that mixtape. There's some good songs and even better memories wrapped up in there, so too in tonight's 115-117 loss: notably that final 4 minutes ballad by your favorite band, the #DameTime portion of all albums. (Quick note: Tonight was yet another reminder to sit back and enjoy Damian Lillard while you can- these 50 point nights are not as easy as he's making them look. He is truly a sight to behold, but more on that later.) Every mix contains absolutely awful choices and "what were you thinking" moments; this game did too. It ran the gamut of excruciatingly painful to face-melting awesome- which is really what every mixtape, and NBA outing, should do.
Let's get to it...
You pop in the tape and press play...a few seconds pass by and finally it hits you- this is your 90's hit list! You immediately remember every song on there and the order they're in. First thing on there MC Hammer's "You Can't Touch This." Problem is every 13 seconds the song is skipping, rewinding, replaying, stopping, skipping and replaying. Over. And Over. And Over. This was pretty much exactly the way the first quarter of the game played out. The referees screaming "you can't touch this...or that... or that... or especially this!" It was broken, disjointed, and at times incoherent. Let's run through the numbers- a combined 19 fouls (POR 10- TOR 9), 38 field goal attempts (POR 21- TOR 17), and 20 free throw attempts (POR 7- TOR 13). That screams unwatchable basketball. Both coaches took turns giving the officials earful after earful. That typically means the officials are doing a decent job. Tonight it meant that they showed up.
There was nothing overly physical in the opening stanza, but 12 fouls were called in the first six minutes of the quarter. Big men were the primary culprits, called for the slightest contact (although replays showed on more than a few occasions that the calls were questionable). Neither team was immune to the siren song of the referee whistle. Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, Luis Scola, and Jonas Valanciunas all picked up two fouls a piece within the first five minutes. With so many fouls being called, surely someone had to benefit, yes? Enter DeMar DeRozan. Getting 9 free throw attempts in a game is very good. (DeRozan averages 8.5 a night- 2nd best in the entire league.) Considering he took and hit 9 in just the first quarter, you could sense this wasn't going to be a normal night. DeRozan would supplement his first-quarter free throws with an additional 8 points on 4-8 shooting. If not for Damian Lillard keeping things close by going 5-for-5 from the line and 3-for-5 from the field for 12 points, the Blazers could have been sunk early. End of the first quarter: Portland 30, Toronto 31.
The second quarter was a lot more of the same: more fouls, more free throws, more unwatchable basketball. Essentially you've managed to click through a few songs, the only thing that's popped up is that song from Titianic "My Heart Will Go On" and you think, "if I watch any more of this... I won't want to." Lillard managed to carry the torch for another quarter, shooting 4-for-6 and getting to the line once. Meanwhile DeRozan, heretofore torcher of all things Blazer, managed only 2 points in the quarter, but he ceded control on the free throw generating machine to Kyle Lowry. Lowry kindly accepted this generous gift, putting up 5 free throws and 10 points in the quarter. Lillard's backcourt mate, CJ McCollum had a dozen by the half. For those keeping track of the first half numbers, that's Portland backcourt: 31 points 10/18 FG, and 8/8 FT. Toronto backcourt: 34 points 9/17 FG, and 14/16 FT.
The first half would be defined by a few things. 1) an endless stream of fouls that left players and fans of both teams frustrated. 2) Both backcourts blistered the nets when they were allowed to play. 3) The only players outside of either backcourt that had contributed anything of substance were Ed Davis (7 points, 6 rebounds in 13 minutes) and Jonas Valanciunas (9 points, 3 rebounds) and Bismarck Biyombo (9 points, 4 rebounds). Just about everyone else on the floor was rendered a bystander due to foul trouble or ineffectiveness. Halftime score: Portland 52, Toronto 58
No 90's mix is complete without the work out hall of fame jam, "Gonna Make you Sweat" by C +C Music Factory - and the Raptors continual attacking of the paint definitely made the Blazers sweat tonight. Coming out for the second half it wasn't clear to fans if the refs were going to continue calling the game like they did in the first half. It appears the refs weren't sure either as they called quick, early fouls- one of which was the 4th on Mason Plumlee in only 9 minutes of game time. Plumlee found the bench early with 3 points and 2 rebounds. Meanwhile DeRozan picked up where he left off in the first quarter, getting to the free throw line at a ridiculous rate. Giving DeRozan all the credit here would be a little disingenuous. The Blazers defense, perhaps indifferent after so may whistles, broke down on the perimeter and allowed DeRozan (and anyone willing to work for it) an open path to the rim throughout the evening. He would shoot 10-10 from the line in the quarter, but only went 1-for-5 from the field for a 'paltry' 12 points in the frame.
For the first time all night the Raptors started to pull away from the Blazers, at one point opening up a 15 point lead. Lillard and McCollum carried the scoring load for Portland in the period, but they weren't able to get to the line as often as the Raptors were. They would combine for 17 points on 10 shots with an additional 5 assists, but that was the most the Blazers had to offer. They tried to offset their 14-4 disadvantage at the line by shooting 9-for-20 from the field as a team, but Toronto matched by going 8-for-14 and 2-for-3 from 3-point range. Portland's long distance marksmanship remained solid if not spectacular, but it wasn't enough. End of the third quarter: Portland 77, Toronto 90
The first couple minutes of the fourth quarter actually looked like a real NBA game. The teams took turns playing defense, without fouling, getting out on the break, and running half court offense. After a pair of McCollum free throws early in the quarter brought the deficit below 10, the Blazers did something they hadn't been able to do all night: keep the Raptors off the free throw line. For more than 4 minutes the Blazers challenged shots, got out on the break, and generated free throws for themselves instead of the opponent. Maurice Harkless, who had been an afterthought up to this point, played valiant defense and rebounded well. Each Harkless board seemingly led to an easy bucket on the other end of the floor. McCollum continued his steady, albeit subtle night, chipping in 6 points.
All this was well and good, but the fourth quarter was going to be defined by one player alone: Damian Lamonte Ollie Lillard. Yeah, it's time for full given name status. There's two times the full given name comes out, in legal documents and when you're in trouble. Tonight the Raptors were in trouble.
After McCollum brought the game within striking distance, full-given-name Lillard started to take over. The mixtape hit Montel Jordan's "This is how we do it," No matter how hard you fight it, somebody's getting hyped.
With just over 7 minutes left in the game and the Blazers down 7 points, it was #DameTime. It started off quick: Lillard drive, foul, free throws...two points. Then Lillard shoots from deep for three Points. Back and forth for a few possessions. Lillard from 28 feet. Three more points. After driving and drawing a foul, Dame goes 1-for-2 from the line for another point. It's now Portland 98, Toronto 104 - just over 4 minutes to go.
Lillard comes down, jab steps, drives, pulls up from 22 feet. Golden. That's 11 points in 3 minutes. Lowry tries to keep the Raptors in front, but again Lillard triggers the offense, probing and pulling up from deep off balance for the and-one. Three more points. The mixtape is now at full blown 90's mega-hits level. Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is in full chorus and Blazer fans everywhere have their watches synced to Lillard. Toronto can only hope to maintain a lead large enough to hold out until the clock strikes zero.
Ever resilient, the Raptors respond with punches of their own. Lowry continues to drive to the rim unabated. Lillard, for all of his effort on the offensive end, looks tired. He stands tall, visibly taking in oxygen, while Lowry goes past him and gets to the line. Then DeRozan drives into the paint, pulling up and hitting a beautiful floater. Order is restored, if only for a moment the Raptors have regained a 5 point lead. After a stagnant 2 minute period Lillard returns to his Super-Saiyan form and begins tossing world ending shots at the helpless Raptors. Over the course of 45 seconds he would score 8 points, 6 of them off setback fadeaway 3-pointers that had basketball Twitter racing to type #LeaguePassAlert to make sure they bore witness. The lead was now down to 1 point, 115-116, but the Raptors had the ball with less than 2 seconds remaining.
The problem? Portland was out of timeouts.
The Blazers fouled DeRozan and sent him to the line for his 24th and 25th free throws of the night. He calmly hit the first to break a franchise record for makes in a game. He missed the second on purpose to burn the remaining .9 seconds on the clock.
Lillard time would fall short about the same time "Bitter Sweet Symphony" - The Verve was coming on. The effort was valiant, but ultimately not enough to overcome the hole Portland dug through three quarters. End of game score: Portland 115, Toronto 117
Any two-point loss is going to be tough, but that wasn't the main story tonight. At some point we're going to run out of accurate ways to describe Damian Lillard's performances. Through three quarters he was having a slightly better than average "Lillard game." He had 28 points and 5 assists on 9-for-15 shooting, clearly carrying the offensive burden more than usual but nothing that would lead you to think he was going to explode in the fourth quarter. Twenty-two points in 9 minutes , knocking down 4-for-7 from deep, has the ability to get you up out of your seat pretty darn quick. Lillard finished with 50 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and my jaw on the floor with an absurdly efficient 16-for-28
--Dan Marang @DMarang