Game 39 at TOR: Same ol', same ol'

On Sunday afternoon the Portland Trail Blazers lost to the Toronto Raptors by a score of 105-117. The character of the loss took on a familiar appearance to those who have been watching the Trail Blazers regularly this season.


Toronto's plusses

  • For reasons unclear, Toronto successfully initimidated their opponents. Nor was it just Pascal Siakam's bullying—across the board Toronto's players consistently displayed a willingness to rise or close out as needed, and for much of the game the Blazers were passing to try and minimize contact. It wasn't until Damian Lillard started attacking that nonsense frontally that Portland really looked like they might have a chance. And they did, until there were about three minutes left in the game.
  • Toronto didn't play 48 minutes of professional basketball either, but they played more minutes than the Blazers. Just read some of the previous stories in this series to get a feel for this writer's opinion of the value of focus on the court.
  • On both sides of the ball, Toronto's players understand better when to attack with speed, and when to attack with strength. Like the Blazers, the Raptors have a small enough lineup that they need to contend with bigger opponents as a rule. Unlike the Blazers, when "on" they demonstrate a better grasp of how to meet the challenge of the moment, and more importantly they know that as a smaller lineup they need to beat their opponents with actual speed, rather than hiding behind long passes.
  • Toronto took the court unwilling to accept excuses for poor shooting. Their shooting was far from perfect, but they had more than their share of baskets made against defenders-turned-about, defenders failing to close out, and defenders one step behind the action.

Portland's minuses

  • Turnovers were a problem, of course. There were no surprises at all here.
  • Outside shooting has turned almost tentative, and Trail Blazers are more often electing to drive in all circumstances. As gameplan shifts go it's going pretty well, just not well enough to win games. All of the discussions here about the relationship between momentum and shooting success remain relevant.
  • Portland's ball movement is too slow on the trigger, and players are too close together, to foreclose help. This turns every possession into a nailbiter, and not in a good way. One imagines that the Blazers are getting pretty tired.
  • The early season's crunch time mastery has since crawled away and died. Much of this failure is down to the fact that Damian Lillard is pushing teammates to step up, and they're falling short of success.

The Blazers look very much like a team that's desperately preparing for playoff basketball, but losing games to do it. If you find yourself wishing that they'd just buckle down, stick to their strengths, and ball out, you're not alone.

In closing

Barely an hour after this story drops, the Blazers will tip off against the Orlando Magic at the Moda Center. Orlando's ups and downs look not so different than Portland's, except that as an Eastern Conference team they're facing a marginally lower level of competition on average. Paolo Banchero continues to plug away for Orlando, delivering averages of 21/7/4 in an average 34 minutes of play across all games this season. Like the Blazers, they are for the most part incapable of using defense to compensate for poor shooting. It might not be a particularly good game, but we should like the Blazers' odds.

Tonight's game is the first of a five-game homestand; in fact the Blazers play 10 of their next 11 games, and 14 of their next 18, in Portland. It should be interesting to see if the home locker room, reduced travel demands, and adoring crowds will do something to help the Blazers pull themselves together.