For the first 18 minutes the Raptors showed no signs of turning around their play - the Blazers took advantage of Toronto’s sieve-like defense and uninspired offense to jump out to a double digit advantage in the second quarter.
The Raptors, however, flipped a switch and ran off a 21-2 run across the second and third quarters to grab a lead. DeMar DeRozan (33 points) and Serge Ibaka (18 points) held the Blazers at arm’s length down the stretch, and the Raptors eventually prevailed 112-106.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists; Moe Harkless played a big role, chipping in 18 points and 5 rebounds. Al-Farouq Aminu returned from a two-game absence due to a knee injury and topped the Portland reserves with 13 points and 8 rebounds.
The Blazers started the game by aggressively double teaming DeMar DeRozan to slow Toronto’s offense, while simultaneously making mincemeat of the Raptors’ interior defense.
Maurice Harkless played his usual opportunistic style and scored 9 points in the opening frame on kickout passes and off of turnovers. The Blazers sharp defense paid dividends, netting a 14-6 rebounding advantage and holding Toronto to only 18 points through the first 11 minutes. If not for a late Raptors run, and some chronic poor passing from Lillard, the Blazers could have held a double digit lead. Instead the teams entered the second frame with Portland leading 28-25.
The second quarter started the same as the first, with the Blazers outhustling and outworking the Raptors on both ends. Shabazz Napier got into the act by shutting down Norman Powell and immediately hitting a triple on the other end to stretch the lead to 40-31 with 7:20 left in the frame. Aminu, who scored 9 in the quarter, followed Napier with a 3-pointer of his own at the 4:52 mark and all-of-a-sudden the Blazers had their largest lead of the night (48-36).
Coming out of a timeout, the Raptors played with renewed energy on both ends. They began pressuring the Blazer guards on the perimeter, who had otherwise been driving to the basket unabated, and also attacking the paint on the other end with multiple players to offset the pressure being applied to DeRozan. The result: a 21-2 run and 59-52 lead after an Ibaka dunk with 9:48 to go in the third.
The Raptors had all the momentum at that point, but the Blazers called on their one-man energy reserve to counter. Harkless scored six points in a minute to cut the lead to 61-58. Both teams went back and forth hard for the rest of the quarter, before Toronto emerged with an 82-80 lead.
The fourth quarter belonged to Lillard, Ibaka, and DeRozan. Lillard did everything he could to keep Portland in the game offensively with 11 fourth quarter points, but Ibaka and DeRozan trumped Lillard with 16 combined points. Ibaka scored on a variety of post-ups, hook shots, and jumpers, while DeRozan was his usual foul-drawing self (15-for-16 on free throws for the game).
The crucial bucket came with 2:41 to go: Lillard gave Joseph a wide open lane to the basket and his teammates, partially wary of Ibaka, did not help. Joseph’s lay-up put the Raptors ahead 104-96. Lillard did manage to cut the lead to three (107-104) a minute after that, but DeRozan scored easily in isolation on the next possession. One-hundred seconds and three DeRozan free throws later and the Raptors had prevailed 112-106.
With no Kyle Lowry, Head Coach Terry Stotts wrote his entire gameplan around harrassing DeRozan. Belying DeRozan’s 33 points, the Blazers were somewhat effective at limiting him for most of the game. Harkless spent much of the contest defending the Toronto guard as tightly as possible on the perimeter, with aid from several other players jumping out to double DeRozan hard out of the screen and roll. This strategy created several turnovers leading to fast break dunks, and DeRozan was visibly frustrated with 4:24 to go in the game.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, two other defensive deficiencies limited their overall effectiveness, and allowed 59 second half points. Namely, the Raptors’ secondary players scored too easily, and the Blazers couldn’t string together stops down the stretch.
Regarding the first point, the Blazers defense lacked bite around the rim most of the night. Combine that with the usual iffy perimeter defense and it becomes apparent how a non-shooter like Delon Wright managed 11 points and Joseph scored 14. Meyers Leonard was the primary culprit; he offered no resistance at the basket whatsoever. Stotts eventually pulled Leonard for good in favor of Nurkic after a particularly egregious Wright drive and bucket mid-way through the fourth. The Blazers also had no answer for Ibaka - playing only his second game as a Raptor. His impressively diverse offensive repertoire left Aminu helpless down the stretch.
Secondly, the Raptors abused the Blazers on the defensive end in the closing minutes. It started when Lillard didn’t even bother to hold up the red cape for Joseph on a key basket with 2:41 to go.
And on nearly every ensuing possession the Raptors had one play: High screen and roll for DeRozan with Lillard’s man acting as the screener. The Blazers did come up with stops on a couple plays, but DeRozan’s presence was ultimately too much.
Offensively, the Blazers looked fine for most of the game. Interestingly, Stotts called several of Plumlee’s sets for Nurkic tonight. Rather than spending the entire game on the low block, the Bosnian Beast also handled some playmaking on the perimeter, hit a mid-range jumper, and dove to the rim out of the pick and roll. Unfortunately he struggled with fouls for most of the night and only managed 21 minutes of playing time.
Damian Lillard also had 8 of the Blazers’ 16 assists and 4 of their 9 turnovers. With CJ McCollum and Nurkic mostly held in check, Lillard really missed Evan Turner’s playmaking ability tonight.
CJ McCollum was largely ineffective. Seventeen points on 19 shots and only one assist. He also did little to stymie the Raptors’ guards. CJ will want to forget this game.
Jusuf Nurkic struggled with fouls and had only 8 points and 4 rebounds on 3-for-9 shooting. He also lost two teeth. Ouch.
Maurice Harkless’ energy was invaluable tonight. He also spent most of the game as the primary defender on DeRozan. The 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals were hard earned.
Al-Farouq Aminu played 29 minutes in his return to action and had a respectable 13 points and 8 rebounds, but he could not contain Ibaka in the fourth.
Meyers Leonard’s defense around the rim was ...not good. His 1-for-5 shooting limited his offensive impact but he did draw four free-throws!
Shabazz Napier played 9 minutes and brought noticeable energy to the game. Bad matchups kept him from playing more.
Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh split the invisible man award tonight. Fifty-two combined minutes on the court and it’s hard to remember a significant play from either. Of course, one is getting paid $2.75 million this season and the other is making $18.5 million. This might not be so bad if Crabbe had a noticeable impact on defense, but he spent part of this game shadowing P.J. Tucker who is averaging 7.1 points per game and probably doesn’t even know the plays yet. CTC, indeed.
Eric Griffith | GoBlazers87@gmail.com | @EricG_NBA