The Trail Blazers snapped a two-game losing streak with a much-needed 128-122 victory over the Raptors. Portland’s bench recovered from a stretch of subpar performances to produce 58 points on Friday. Without Kyle Lowry, Toronto managed to keep pace thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s 25-point performance in the second half. The final outcome felt a little closer than it should have been, but after a rough stretch of games, the Blazers will gladly take this victory over the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Portland’s bench production has been abysmal for long stretches of December, but the second unit’s first shift provided plenty of confidence-boosting moments. Seth Curry made the most of his touches, Zach Collins established himself on both ends of the court, and Evan Turner recorded a turnover-free first half.
The Blazers’ reserves then parlayed that early effort into a stellar shift in the second half. After a quiet start to the game Leonard and Fred VanVleet heated up in the third quarter, which quickly cut Portland’s lead to single-digits. Instead of surrendering the lead, the Curry-led second unit actually pushed the Blazers’ advantage back to a comfortable margin.
Along with maintaining the lead, Portland’s bench paved the way for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to get an extended amount of rest in the fourth quarter. Upon their return, the Blazers’ backcourt had enough juice in the final stretch to secure the win over a surging Raptors squad.
Battle in the Paint
Portland overcame Toronto’s stellar 55.8 field goal percentage by generating more opportunities. The Blazers won the offensive rebounding battle 12-5, and nabbed six more steals than the Raptors. It is never ideal to surrender a friendly shooting percentage to your opponent, but coach Terry Stotts’ squad found a way to take advantage of the road-weary Raptors in other categories.
Along with their defensive efforts, the Blazers did an excellent job of controlling the ball on offense. As a team, Portland recorded 29 assists and committed just eight turnovers. Before connecting on five three-pointers in the fourth quarter, the Blazers controlled the contest by outscoring the Raptors down low. They finished the game with a 60-40 advantage in points scored in the paint.
Dime Dropping Nurkic
Jusuf Nurkic had a team-high seven assists, and avoided committing a single turnover in 27 minutes of action. He also single-handedly nabbed half of Portland’s offensive rebounds. As far as his own scoring, Nurkic turned in another forgettable performance. The big fella went 4-15 from the field on his way to recording 11 points. Nurkic has shot a combined 5-30 in his last two outings.
Lillard and McCollum had a relatively quiet night from beyond the arc. The duo combined for just five three-pointers, but two of them came in the final three minutes of action. Lillard finished with 24 points, and McCollum notched 14 points of his own.
Four of Portland’s bench players reached double-figures on Friday night. Curry was effective from all three levels on offense, which resulted in him finishing with a season-high 13 points. Collins was assertive on both ends of the court, and Nik Stauskas managed to overcome a 1-5 three-point shooting performance to reach double-figures. Along with that trio, Turner made valuable contributions across the board. He finished with 12 points, six assists, and six rebounds.
The Blazers return to action Monday to face the Clippers in Los Angeles.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com