The Trial Blazers, without Damian Lillard, fell to the Raptors 110-104 on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic led the way for Portland in Lillard’s absence. The guard-center tandem combined for 38 points—most of which occurred in the second quarter of action. For the Raptors, Serge Ibaka led a three-point attack that proved to be too much for the Blazers in the second half.
Regardless of the loss, the Blazers displayed a few noteworthy items. Portland debuted their two-center lineup consisting of Hassan Whiteside and Nurkic. Outside of the starting big fellas, Wenyen Gabriel showed off his hustle in the final quarter of action. On the negative side, the officials seemed determined to disrupt the rhythm of both teams. The Blazers and Raptors combined for 70 free throw attempts (*checks notes again*...IN A SCRIMMAGE).
CJ & The Bigs
The Blazers’ rotation featured two major changes on Sunday: McCollum took over lead-guard duties and the frontcourt featured both Nurkic and Whiteside. McCollum’s production looked familiar, he was aggressive and did most of his passing after breaking down his defender. The former Lehigh standout hit his stride early and notched 19 of his 21 points in the first half.
The two-center approach was a mixed bag on both ends of the court. Nurkic performed admirably on defense outside of his comfort zone, but he was slightly exposed when he had to face Pascal Siakam in one-on-one situations. Offensively, Whiteside settled for face-up shots and had relative success early. As Whiteside’s face-up shots from inside piled up alongside plays that placed Nurkic in no-man’s land, you couldn’t help but wonder if their roles should be exchanged on the offensive end.
The biggest surprise of the two-big lineup might have been the lack of rebounding. It is clear that teams facing Portland’s twin towers will attack from the perimeter. Long rebounds combined with Nurkic and Whiteside’s removal from the paint to produce a plethora of second-chance opportunities for the Raptors. Toronto finished with 13 offensive boards.
Facing interior-oriented defenders for the majority the game, the Raptors committed to taking three-pointers almost exclusively. The Blazers held their own for the most part in the first half, but the same old problems with containment popped up periodically. If the Raptors committed to passing out of successful drives, they were rewarded with favorable looks from beyond the arc.
Here is one example of OG Anunoby kicking the ball out after getting by Mario Hezonja.
The handles... The ball movement... Poetry pic.twitter.com/0YF6ZKfz8p— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) July 26, 2020
In transition or early in possessions, the Raptors routinely came down the court and stepped into three-point attempts. The Blazers survived that style of attack initially, but the Raptors heated up just enough to open a double-digit lead in the third quarter.
Toronto finished the game with 17 three-pointers, 10 more than the Blazers.
Nurkic produced fireworks in the second quarter after getting in a brief tussle with Serge Ibaka. After the two exchanged dirty looks following a wondering elbow from Ibaka, Nurkic went all out on both ends. He quickly scored over Ibaka in the post, went to the floor for a loose ball, disrupted the Raptors’ offense and put a cherry on top with his only three-pointer of the night.
Intensity on— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) July 26, 2020
The Beast is BACK pic.twitter.com/uUKtw0LEJV
For the second straight game, Nurkic showed that he appears ready to hit the ground running after a year away from competitive action. It is foolish to put too much value into a successful sequence in a scrimmage contest, but his motivated flurry against Ibaka should put the rest of the league on notice.
Nurkic finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 27 minutes.
Wenyen Won’t Quit
Wenyen Gabriel didn’t appear on the court until the final moments of the third quarter and he did his best to make things interesting down the stretch. The Blazers erased a double-digit deficit to finish within six points of the Raptors at the final whistle. Gabriel’s energetic and relentless style was at the heart of that late-game surge. He finished with six points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes.
Carmelo Anthony struggled to find his groove on offense. He too often stopped possessions by clinging to the ball and failed to produce favorable looks in one-on-one opportunities. Melo connected on just four of his 13 field goals for 14 points in 27 minutes.
Gary Trent Jr. could not avoid fouls against the Raptors, but his intensity on defense continued to stand out. If you present the ball to him, he will try his best to snag it from your grasp.
The Blazers play their final scrimmage contest against the Thunder on Tuesday.