The Toronto Raptors went on a string of runs en route to downing the Portland Trail Blazers 117-105 on Sunday afternoon. The Raptors surged behind 27 points from Pascal Siakam and 22 points from Scottie Barnes in a supporting role.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse went 11 deep in this one, and both teams saw their starting fives score in double figures. Despite solid play from the Raptors, Damian Lillard and the Blazers ate into the lead on several occasions. Unfortunately it did not materialize into a comeback win.
Neither team shot particularly well from the field, as Portland barely edged out Toronto 44.7%-44.0% from the floor. The offensive rebounding margin was only three, yet several came in the fourth quarter for the home team, helping to seal the win.
Turnovers were the Achilles heel for Rip City, as they committed 24 on the game, a deleterious 10 giveaways in a crucial third quarter that magnified a deficit they could not bail themselves out of.
Here’s how the action went.
Toronto deployed a five-man starting rotation with no true center. This was music to the ears of the Trail Blazers. Instinctively, Jusuf Nurkic was hungry to feast, and his teammates fed him. The Raptors’ defense collapsed on him on his first two touches, and he made the right reads to set up Grant for a smooth lefty lay, and then Simons for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. On the other end, Portland was lazy in guarding Scottie Barnes. Perhaps this was their approach off of the scouting report. Either way, Barnes made them pay. He walked into an 18-footer, and then drilled a wide open 3-pointer to keep Toronto close.
Out of the timeout, many Blazers took turns facilitating the offense. We saw Simons initiate off of the tip, but Josh Hart and Jerami Grant had their turns in the pick-and-roll in addition to the accustomed Lillard. Pascal Siakam put on a spectacle out of the post on two occasions. North of seven minutes to go, he brought the ball up in patented Spicy P fashion, then went between his legs to get to his spot in the mid-post, and rose up with a purpose to get the friendly bounce from 10 feet out. Siakam forced a timeout at the 4:38 mark with a beautiful sequence where he put his defender in a spin cycle, turning baseline to free himself for a nice gimme at the rim high off the glass.
Defense led to offense when play resumed as Drew Eubanks channeled the spirit of Ben Wallace and blocked a dunk attempt from Christian Koloko, blocked a second-chance opportunity, ran the floor hard filling the lane, all leading to a spot-up 3-pointer for Shaedon Sharpe that was smooth as butter. Both teams used dribble hand-offs and curls from the free throw line extended to facilitate their offense. They both maintained man defenses throughout, save the final minute where Toronto went into what appeared to be a 1-3-1 zone, capping off an exciting first quarter.
One would never think Pascal Siakam was in a 25 percent shooting rut over his last two games, as he had 13 points on 66 percent from the field. The Blazers conceded a 7-0 run to end the quarter. The score was 34-27 Toronto after one.
If a 7-0 run to end the first wasn’t bad enough, a 6-0 run to begin the second quickly made it a 40-27 affair. Malachi Flynn brought out the hesitation, freezing his defender and getting to the rim for the scoop lay up. Sharpe showed his youth and inexperience, as he drove to the basket on two of three attempts, getting blocked both times and leading to Raptors points. Flynn had the 2k fire icon under him, as he came down, split the defense and threw a lob up to the rafters that Precious Achiuwa corralled into the rim with authority. Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups was not happy, and how could he be?
A 2-3 Raptors zone forced a shot clock violation four minutes into the second. Gary Trent Jr. got busy and hit a highly-contested 3-pointer from the top of the key. Then he got the heat check the next time down, hitting a side-step trifecta. At this point, the Blazers found themselves down 19 points. Lillard was playing passive. Grant’s airspace from deep was stifled. Kudos to Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse for watching tape, because it’s evident that he had his eyes peeled in the film room. He had his players respecting the Logo Lillard nickname, as they were out well beyond 30 feet to defend the all-star point guard after he hit a triple to break a cold spell.
All throughout the first half, Nurkic showed off his hands, in all the wrong reasons. Luckily, it didn’t stop a Portland 10-0 run that cut it to eight. It even helped them along the way, as he tapped in a Hart layup that should’ve been called for offensive basket interference. Toronto got comfortable with the 3-ball, which showed no love back to them. Soon, a Josh Hart and-one floater off glass cut the deficit to three, and Portland had a lot to be happy about heading into the break. To close out, Brit OG Anunoby didn’t put enough English on his layup attempt after getting fouled, but earned it back at the charity stripe. The score at the half was 58-53 Toronto.
Another 7-0 run at the start of the third put Toronto back into a comfortable lead. It’s one thing if you won’t guard Scottie Barnes from 27, or from 20, but to leave him without pressure inside of 10 feet is inexcusable. He dialed in a floater by curling out of the dunker spot to the top of the restricted area, over a late-to-recover Nurkic. VanVleet was the benefactor of a straightaway triple that was nothing but net, reverberating throughout Scotiabank Arena.
Siakam continued clicking on all cylinders, putting his brick in to a Raptors run that put the lead right back at 19 points. Lillard had a nice aggressive take where he fought through contact for a layup. But Barnes came right back and drew a foul, being a menace down low. Nurkic regained pep to his step with two sound defensive possessions — first shading VanVleet baseline and going up straight to discombobulate the point guard trying to reverse, and then maintained his ground and forced a miss on an Anunoby hook attempt on the right block.
Lillard tried to embarrass Koloko with a left handed tomahawk poster, but was denied and hacked by the young big man. The Raptors went five minutes without a field goal, perfectly exemplifying their icy-hot production through three. Koloko came down moments later and broke that cold spell with a near-poster of his own — a two handed dunk with verve. For perhaps the first time this year, it just wasn’t Eubanks’ night on defense. Every Raptor had their way on him inside.
Portland had three bench points at the end of three. Three. They were also a combined minus 63. Portland had 10 of their 19 turnovers in the quarter. Sharpe had one of those Ja Morant-esque botched highlights, where he got so high on a dunk attempt his head ascended above the bottom rung of the backboard and his arm 12 feet high. Simons hit a desperation heave at the buzzer from 35 feet out to make it an 89-74 affair heading into the fourth.
Dame Dolla waged a 13-5 comeback run early in the fourth, fueled by two deep trifectas. He made sure to mean mug as he trotted to the bench after a Toronto timeout. Then Lillard gifted Anunoby with his fifth foul and an and-one floater on his head to bring the deficit to five points. Next time down, Josh Hart took it 80-plus feet for a rack attack. VanVleet was the Freddy to Portland’s nightmare of a swing, as a missed layup from Lillard led to a spot up 3-pointer from the Raptor guard, reinvigorating the crowd.
Gary Trent Jr. got his late in the quarter, as Siakam drove in and dumped off a bounce-pass to him in the corner, which he took to the center of the floor for a mid-range jumper. Lillard drove to the basket late, and tried to kick out to Simons after leaving his feet, but it fell right into the hands of Trent Jr. Toronto came back down and Anunoby hit a 3-pointer from the right wing that put the nail in the coffin.
In desperation, Portland stood up against a seven-point hole with around two minutes to go. Simons got shifty with a crossover and converted a high arcing layup to cut it to five. Going the other way, an offensive rebound from Barnes gave Siakam a highway to the rim, and an exit to the free throw line, undoing Simons’ work. Yet another offensive rebound with just under a minute to go led to a Koloko deuce, and a Nurkic offensive foul off of an illegal screen put the casket in the ground.
This marks Portland’s second three-game losing streak in their last nine contests. They will return to the Moda Center on Tuesday to face the young and struggling Orlando Magic at 7:00 p.m. PT.
The Trail Blazers are now No. 9 in the western conference standings, and are in danger of falling to No. 12, as they only hold a 0.5 game lead over the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. They’ll look to right the ship and ascend back up to the No. 6 seed on Tuesday. They are currently a game back.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming up next!