Raptors 103, Trailblazers 106 – Box
It’s debatable whether it would’ve been better for my health if the Raptors had ended up losing by 19, or in the fashion that they did. A forgettable first half started with Portland moving the first pawn through a Nicolas Batum on Kyle Lowry switch, which had quite an adverse effect on the Raptors’ offense as they were unable to negotiate Portland’s ball-pressure and length, and were seduced into a heavy dose of jump-shooting. Not having a steady ball-handler in Greivis Vasquez available (flu) prevented Dwane Casey from kick-starting the offense by using the two-guard lineup with Kyle Lowry off the ball, and when the onus fell on DeMar DeRozan to produce offense in the absence of constructive ball-movement, his outside shooting let him down. In the first half, that is.
“We understand what we had to do, honestly. We understand we were down big and the only way we would get back in this game was to get stops and that’s what we started doing. That was the main part. We were missing a lot of easy shots that we normally make, but we don’t worry about that. The only thing we worry about is the defensive game and we picked it up in the second half.”
Jonas Valanciunas (18 pts, 8-11 FG, 4 reb, 5 PF) was matched up against Robin Lopez, who the Lithuanian concedes an inch and 25 pounds to, and every single ounce was self-evident on this night. To the sophomore’s credit, his mid-range game was as fluid as it has ever been, and his offensive decision-making quick and correct, yet his coach will have to have felt aggrieved at his defensive performance. His rebounding and general defensive positioning was simply off, and whenever you play defense while being out of position you end up fouling, which is what happened to him. Having being tacked with three fouls in the first half made him hesitant on defense, which was accentuated even more by his partner, Amir Johnson’s, ineffectiveness.
LaMarcus Aldridge was unstoppable in the first quarter (netted a double-double in the first) and almost all of it came against Johnson, who couldn’t contain him in the post or out in space. On the other end, Aldridge was let off the hook because he didn’t have to defend anyone since the Raptors were hoisting jumpers and there was little pick ‘n roll play, which meant all Aldridge had to do was focus on defensive rebounding, which he did well. Down by 12 at the end of the first, the Raptors didn’t get the punch from the bench that they usually get (scoreless in the second), with Julyan Stone being exposed as a man who can only be asked to bring the ball up the court. No more and barely that.
“First half, we came out with a typical back-to-back approach. It wasn’t us. I thought we picked it up in the second half, but again you can’t spot a good team like Portland that many points and expect to survive. I commend our guys for fighting and scrapping in the second half, but we have to start the game in that approach, even on a back-to-back.”
– Dwane Casey
Down 17 at the half things were looking bleak, but there was some silver lining on the wall: 1) Portland was only 2-8 from three and it was due to the Raptors not letting down defensively even though the offense was sputtering, 2) the Raptors were 0-8 from three which has been their bread-and-butter of late, and 3) they had missed 7 free throws (17-25, 68% for the game). Someone checking the halftime score might have though Portland was dominating, when in fact the truth was that the Raptors were masters of their own demise in many senses.
After shooting only 35% in the first half, the Raptors shot 58% in the third. DeMar DeRozan (14-29 FG, 36 pts, 12 ast – shot performance) led the way with 16 in the frame and the lead was slashed to six, only for Portland to hit back-to-back threes to take a 9-point lead into the fourth. Kyle Lowry, now being guarded by Lillard as well, had more success getting around high screens than he had with Batum, and Chuck Hayes battled Aldridge, forcing the All-Star to take contested jumpers. Aldridge was only 2-8 FG in the second half when Hayes guarded him. Patrick Patterson stepped up in the third as well getting some key in-traffic rebounds and supplying the customary offense, which included a three right in Aldridge’s eye. Amir Johnson, no doubt hampered by injury, played only three minutes in the second half and none in the fourth quarter.
“We started screening a lot better, getting to the rim a lot better, executing our game plan and what we wanted to do. We have to drive the ball and get to the paint and we did a good job of doing that in the second half and not settling for jump shots.”
The six-point slash of the lead to nine entering the fourth gave the visitors the needed belief that this game was within a shout, if only they got on a hot streak. Portland’s offensive weapons, other than some killer threes which were invited by some highly questionable early double-teaming of Lillard, were being contained and it was a matter of getting the offense chugging. And chugged it was in the fourth as the Raptors, after suffering an early setback in the fourth through more Portland threes, blazed the trail for their comeback. DeRozan’s jumper was in effect including two threes and a gorgeous turnaround over Lillard, Lowry pitched in with two threes as well. Valanciunas displayed a surprisingly effective short-game, and Patterson’s timely movement and shot-making was in full color – the comeback was on. Portland was thunderstruck and couldn’t believe their eyes as a 19-point lead had turned into a one-point Raptors advantage. The swagger on defense was back and every Portland possession was one-and-done with all five Raptors crashing the glass.
That advantage had materialized through DeMar DeRozan drawing a foul near the three-point and hitting two FTs with 25 seconds left. On the other end, Lillard drove and got tied up but a foul was called out-of-bounds. The ensuing play:
Not very well defended as Patrick Patterson’s bumping into his own teammate, Lowry is falling, and there’s massive confusion between switch/stay. Whatever defensive plan the Raptors had was clearly not executed – I was surprised it wasn’t either 1) an outright switch between Patterson/Lowry, or 2) Lowry going under and coming back on the other side. Instead it appeared that Patterson and Lowry had a conference call with the outcome being Patterson setting a screen on Lowry. It’s poor defending by any standard, and given the Raptors have no shot-blocking presence on the court, inviting Lillard to drive was suicide. The personnel on the court for the Raptors would suggest that they want to force a long jumper rather than a drive, but the play was allowed to develop otherwise.
DeRozan drove the ball on the next play and was met with the same type of contact as Lillard on two plays previous, only this time the referees called a jumpball. DeRozan won it and the Raptors called timeout; Casey returned with a very similar play which had DeRozan dribbling the ball (not his strength) with defenders lurking. He turned it over and the game was over:
I could go on a diatribe about Dwane Casey’s out-of-timeout play-calling right now but I’ll refrain. After all, DeRozan was having a great passing game as well. He had 12 assists and putting the ball in his hands wasn’t exactly a bad idea, no matter what his shortcomings as a ball-handler.
It’s heartbreaking, but when you view this game in context it’s good news: a back-t0-back game on the road against one of the NBA’s best and you’re down 19 on account of a slow start; most teams fold, not the Raptors. The intensity picked up in the second half and they were rewarded with a chance to win the game, and on any other night the Raptors get a shot off on that last possession and then it’s up in the air. There’s strength of character on this team, in year’s past that 17-point halftime lead would’ve turned to 30 by the third, and reduced to 22 through a meaningless fourth quarter run led by Alan Anderson. This time around we take it down to the wire and only enhance our reputation around the league and the confidence of every member. This squad is a joy to watch, not because they’re great at all times, but because you know they’re never out. And honestly, if it weren’t for a couple questionable calls and missed technical fouls, this game was ours.
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No letups in Sacramento and Utah.