In a game best forgotten, the Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Toronto Raptors 123-105 on Saturday night. Damian Lillard scored 30, but that didn’t even come close to compensating for the loss of Jusuf Nurkic and Josh Hart to injuries. As we detailed in our quarter-by-quarter game recap, Toronto’s big forwards destroyed Portland from the jump. Portland couldn’t shoot well enough from distance to compensate, and that was pretty much the ballgame.
Here are a few other observations and bits of analysis from a fairly by-the-numbers drubbing.
Without Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers had no real size inside to defend the rim. Without Josh Hart, they lacked one of their best perimeter drive-stoppers. That combination proved devastating. All Toronto had to do was get a Portland defender to bite on half a fake, ending up flat-footed, and the ball was in the lane like lightning. Once Raptors feet hit the paint, Portland had no height, no shot blocking, no rebounding, no nothing.
Credit the Raptors for being disciplined enough to keep pressing their advantage the whole game without getting bored. They ended up scoring 68 in the lane. For reference, they’re averaging 51.4 for the season.
The only time the story changed was when Portland went with a young, incredibly-switch-able lineup. That at least kept defenders in front of the ball instead of watching it being dropped in the cup. But the young lineup couldn’t produce enough offense to make a difference.
The painful part of that paint story was a corresponding vacancy of the three-point arc for Portland on defense. To have any chance at all, the Blazers had to collapse inside with everything they had. In brief streaks, it worked. They forced turnovers and grabbed rebounds. But over time, open threes for the Raptors proved a back-breaker. When the Raptors went cold from distance, Portland made up ground. Any time Toronto hit outside shots, the Blazers didn’t have a chance.
The Blazers ended up watching passes go to the perimeter and praying. Toronto shot 10-30 from distance, but seemed to hit the back-breaking ones.
Just as the Blazers allowed the Raptors too many long shots, they failed to convert their own. Portland shot just 7-24 from distance. That’s always bad news for Portland, particularly on a night when they were out-manned already.
Let’s face it...with Nurkic and Hart out, Toronto saw the open opportunity and exploited it mercilessly. Between Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and Precious Achiuwa, the Raptors had a size (and often athleticism) advantage at multiple positions. Portland had no answer, and that doomed them from the outset.
Stars to the Rescue
When all else fails, the Blazers will try to win with talented scorers. Both Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant stepped up to the plate, especially in the third period with Portland in desperate need of a comeback. Their ability to convert or get fouled trying saved the Blazers from utter embarrassment. Lillard scored 30 on 10-20 shooting, 8-9 from the free throw stripe. Grant scored 26 on 9-19 shooting, 7-9 from the line.
Scoring wasn’t the only interior advantage for the Raptors. The grabbed 15 offensive rebounds against only 3 for Portland, winning the overall rebounding battle 45-27. That left Portland trying to get traction on a massive sand dune. They managed it for a while, but the momentum was never enough to escape the disintegrating ground under their feet.
In a non-coincidence, Hart and Nurkic have been Portland’s best rebounders all year, and some of the best in the league.
Toronto likes to play faster than the Blazers do. When Portland allowed them to do so, the game got ugly, quickly. To their credit, Portland did manage to turn the tables during their various runs. When the Raptors played against the clock, they looked pretty bad. But the Blazers couldn’t make them do so long enough to make a difference. See also: rebounding, just above.
This loss guarantees the Blazers can earn no better than a 3-3 record during their current, six-game homestand. They had hoped to make up ground during this stretch. It’s going to be harder now, as following a Monday night game against the Atlanta Hawks, Portland heads out on the road for three, then back home for a tough slate of opponents.
Stay tuned for analysis from the evening, coming right up!
The Blazers will have a day off to think about this one before welcoming the Atlanta Hawks in a 7:00 PM, Pacific tip on Monday night.