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Big Men Finally Come Through as Blazers Down Raptors

Larry Nance, Jr. earns half of his paycheck in one night.

Toronto Raptors v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers knocked off the Toronto Raptors 118-113 on Monday night, taking their record to 7-8, 6-1 at the Moda Center. The victory wasn’t easy. Both teams made runs and rallies, keeping the outcome in doubt down to the final minute. But the Blazers had the extra play, the extra shot, and just enough extra “Oomph!” to secure the scoreboard when the clock expired.

If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. Below are a few other things you need to know about the game.

Big Men Are Big

Win or lose, most of the focus this season has been on Portland’s substantial (perhaps bloated) guard corps. Backcourt players made a huge impact tonight. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum attempted 39 of Portland’s 82 shots, scoring 53 between them.

Those numbers would have led to a predictably fancy loss had it not been for Larry Nance, Jr. and Jusuf Nurkic.

Nance, Jr. keyed Portland’s bench after the starting unit laid an egg (topped with soggy-shredded-wheat defense) in the first period. He put it into overdrive on the defensive end, watching the rim and ranging on the floor seemingly all at once. On offense he provided the pivot point that the Blazers have hoped Nurkic would become. Nance flipped a couple nice passes from the lane, set screens to free shooters, and converted dunks and layups whenever he received the ball in return. His energy brought Portland to life.

Nurkic picked up on the vibe during his second shift and for most of them thereafter. He didn’t touch the ball much on offense. That’s usually the cue for him to detach from the game. He did the opposite tonight, standing in the lane like Horatius at the bridge. His stat line reads 0 blocks, but the scorekeeper probably gave a couple of multiple-player rejections to smaller teammates. Nurkic stopped the Raptors at the rim whenever he was in the vicinity, delaying scorers enough to allow extra defenders—plus their arms and hands—into the play.

This wasn’t a perfect defensive game from the Blazers. The Raptors scored 20 points in transition and shot 45.5% from the three-point arc. Every Toronto starter scored at least 16 points. OG Anunoby had 29. It was an energetic—and ultimately sufficient—effort though. Nurkic and Nance belong first on the list, crediting how it was possible.

Bench Press

Portland’s starters were on-and-off tonight, but their bench came to PLAY. Five players saw action. Four of them registered a positive plus-minus. Nobody off of Toronto’s bench got close.

The Blazers reserves shot a combined 16-23 from the field. Every one of them notched at least one assist. They committed only 3 turnovers between them. Collectively, they turned this game. Seeing their confidence, plus the pep in their step, adds a stirring countermelody to an otherwise placid season.

A Little Too Much

Nassir Little has been at the core of Portland’s bench resurgence this season. He played 25 minutes tonight, more than Nurkic did in the starting lineup.

Like Marcia Brady putting whipped cream on her ex-boyfriend’s sundae, Little may have been a bit too aggressive. He took shots a hair quickly, pursued a tad too far, and picked up 3 fouls. This is fine...one never finds the line without going over it. He made a couple spectacular defensive plays too. It just felt like this was Extra Nas, when Ordinary Nas is near-perfect.

McCollum Owns the Fourth

CJ McCollum has taken a fair amount of criticism lately for forcing shots, over-dribbling, and coming up with stat lines featuring more scoring than efficiency. He was some kind of weapon in the fourth quarter of this game, though.

Lillard helped spur the Blazers in the critical minutes of the fourth, but he also missed shots and drew defensive attention. Whenever Lillard got into a cul de sac, CJ steered the team back onto the highway, hitting four shots for 10 points in the frame.

Every time the Blazers needed a bail-out in any way, McCollum was there. This included a HUGE block of a Scottie Barnes dunk attempt with 4:46 remaining in the fourth, effectively putting an end to a Raptors run that threatened to give them the lead again. Seriously, the entire court froze when CJ capped him. Everybody in the arena was like, “Who? Did WHAT?!?”

Yeah, Mr. Barnes, that was CJ McCollum. Next time don’t bring that stuff in there. He ain’t stamping no passports today.

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The Blazers go up against the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.