The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Toronto Raptors with recently-acquired guard Norman Powell in the starting lineup. This would mark the first night in which the Blazers fielded a complete lineup for the last three months. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic started alongside Powell. Meanwhile Gary Trent, Jr. and Rodney Hood, whom the Blazers swapped for Powell, played prominent roles for the opposition. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry sat out the game.
The renewed roster, combined with a depleted (and let’s face it, not very good) Toronto rotation should have spelled an easy win for the Blazers. You know what they say about easy wins: Portland never gets them. Nor did they tonight. Portland allowed the offensively-challenged Raptors 74 points in the first half, then rode an incredible defensive third period from Robert Covington (plus scoring from Lillard and McCollum down the stretch) to salt away a precarious 122-117 win.
Seven Blazers scored in double figures, led by McCollum with 23 and Lillard with 22. Derrick Jones, Jr. led the bench with 16. Lillard added 11 assists. Powell scored 13 against his former team, Trent, Jr. 6 and Rodney Hood 13 against theirs.
The game started at a slower pace than the Blazers prefer, as both teams walked the ball down the floor into the halfcourt. Toronto defended the Blazers well. The Raptors’ bad shooting made the Blazers look like they defended well too. Toronto was not going to be able to hold down Portland’s offense forever. Meanwhile Aron Baynes three pointers are always going to look bad. The Blazers used superior size to score on the inside as Toronto screened and prayed. Portland began to edge ahead.
Norman Powell picked up two quick fouls, though. When he sat, Portland’s defense looked lesser. Then Enes Kanter checked in and it got even worse. The Raptors scored at the rim, then began to kick it out for threes when Portland collapsed inside. Suddenly the team that couldn’t hit a shot, couldn’t miss. Pascal Siakam carved apart Portland’s broken defense and, incredibly, the game started looking like a rout. Toronto scored 41 points in the first against 32 for the Blazers. This was not good.
On the up side, Lillard had 9 assists after one quarter.
Portland’s second unit found success in the second period by turning the tables on Toronto. The Raptors’ frontline was more athletic than Portland’s but they were also smaller. The Blazers went away from the guards a little, getting the ball inside off the post or drive. Toronto couldn’t cope and the Blazers closed the gap quickly. But the Raptors gathered themselves mid-frame. going right back at the Blazers bigs inside and out. The tempo remained slow and each shot seemed important. Lillard took over again as the clock dwindled. Portland also smartened up on defense, crowding and stripping Toronto’s big men inside. The Raptors had a nasty habit of passing out to forwards for open threes on those possessions, though. Long-ball makes kept them above water despite Lillard scoring (or Portland rebounders scoring off of Dame’s misses). Then CJ McCollum went on a blitz and all of a sudden Portland’s offense looked whole—and fast—again. The quickness played right into the hands of Derrick Jones, Jr., who put the Raptors in a one-man whirlwind to score 11 on layups and dunks before intermission. But a Rodney Hood three gave Toronto 74 points at the half against 68 for the Blazers.
The Blazers got a break as the third period began. Toronto missed all of their jumpers, wide open or not. Into the scoring vacuum stepped Lillard and McCollum. The Blazers closed the gap for the third time in the game, climbing within one. But the Raptors were slippery, worming into the lane behind Siakam, scoring with regularity. Portland’s threes refused to fall, never a good sign. Lillard FINALLY got one to fall at the 5:00 mark. That, followed by a Powell steal and layup, pushed Portland into the lead at long last. Portland’s defense picked up in general after that, in no small part due to Robert Covington, who appeared to be everywhere at once. The Raptors still couldn’t hit a three on their end, which allowed the Blazers to intensify their defense and rebounding inside. At that point, the wheels fell off for Toronto. They scored only 10 in the period. Lillard had 9 all on his own. Portland led 91-84 after three.
Anfernee Simons got hot to start the fourth. Frankly, any moment of hotness—either from an individual or from the arc in general—was going to be enough to put the game away. Unfortunately, Toronto finally warmed up from distance themselves, equaling Portland from the arc. The Blazers preserved their lead, but not quite comfortably. The Raptors pulled within 4 with 3:30 remaining when Covington fouled Chris Boucher on a three, then within a single point when Fred VanVleet hit a three a couple possessions later. But McCollum would hit a long two to save the lead, then a layup on the next play to extend it to 5. Then McCollum stuck in the dagger with a series of dribble moves to get to the key for an and-one jump-shot. 7 points with 45 seconds remaining was enough to put the game out of reach, finally. The Blazers fumbled critical possessions twice, but were bailed out as Toronto players recovered the ball out of bounds each time. Powell blew a couple free throws in the last minute, but he made up for it by sinking two after. It wasn’t enough to affect the outcome either way. As with the rest of the game, the play wasn’t pretty, but the outcome was ok.
Stay tuned for Steve Dewald’s analysis of this game, coming soon!
The Blazers have a couple days off before facing the Detroit Pistons in the Motor City on Wednesday at 4:00, Pacific.