The Raptors boasted Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Blazers countered with Lillard and McCollum. This was a matchup featuring 2 of the 3 best backcourts in the NBA, and it certainly did not disappoint. With both teams’ best guns firing on all cylinders, it was tough, it was close, but the Raptors ultimately came out on top – 117-115.
The Raptors outpaced the Blazers in each of the first three-quarters leading to a 13-point lead going into the fourth, but were outscored by Lillard and the Blazers 38-27 in the final frame, to make this yet another close home game. Just when things seemed to be certain for the Raptors, the Blazers would make a play and stay in the game. And when things got down to it in the fourth quarter, the Blazers made timely shots and executed on key defensive possessions down the stretch. The game also featured the debut of Jason Thompson, recently acquired off of waivers. Though Thompson entered the game for just a minute and didn’t make a dent in the stat sheet, he offers some much needed depth for the Raptors at the 4-spot.
If anybody in the league is even close to Stephen Curry, in terms of sheer range, shooting confidence, as well as ability to get into the paint, it’s Damian Lillard. Obviously Steph is a better player overall and is playing on a much better team, but Damian Lillard is just sick. Big Game Dame, as he’s sometimes referred to, was simply sensational against the Raps last night, dropping 50 points, on 16/28 shooting and 6 three-pointers. Lillard also dished out 5 assists and grabbed 3 boards, en-route to the hard-fought loss. The ACC crowd was given a treat with an unbelievable display of shot making by Lillard who seemed to find his shot from all over the court in a way only Steph Curry could. Lillard is scoring a blistering 31 points per game on 48% shooting from the field since the all-star break. Clearly, being snubbed from the all-star team has motivated the fourth-year point guard, who has cemented himself as one of the league’s best scoring guards.
Much to the Raptor fans’ delight, Toronto’s more balanced attack, featuring stellar nights as usual from DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, ultimately proved to be too much against Terry Stotts’ squad, who now drop to 33-30 good for 7th place in the western conference.
The Blazers, who were expected to almost certainly be out of the playoff picture this year, have surprised the NBA and have been fuelled by Lillard and most-improved player of the year candidate CJ McCollum. Unfortunately, the Blazers often don’t get much out of anyone else on their team consistently, especially on the road.
Notables of the Night
- Free-throw shooting: In a game that had 65 fouls (that’s not a typo), free throws were in abundance to say the least. Somewhat surprising, given that no hacking strategy was used, it was simply that type of game. The Raptors, however, were the better team at drawing the foul, getting to the line 54 times, and making 43. A big component was DeMar DeRozan, who drained 24/25 from the line, and was on the verge of eclipsing Dominique Wilkins’ record for the most made free throws in a game without a miss (23), before he missed his 25th free throw in the dying seconds of the fourth. But hey, I’ll take the win any day of the week.
- Norman Powell: Similar to earlier in the season, coach Casey opted for Norman Powell at the 3-spot, in light of James Johnson’s recent foot issues causing him to miss the game. And this time around, Powell was ready. Fresh off of a 36 point night the previous night for the 905 against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (to go along with 12 boards), the rookie out of UCLA seemed more fluid and natural in this game, without forcing the issue. While we would expect the defensive effort to be there, it was also nice to have 3/5 shooting, and 2/3 from 3-point range from Powell who seemed to have a clear confidence level shooting the ball.
- Jonas Valanciunas: 17 points and 10 boards for Valanciunas means he’s doing his job. Most importantly, JV stayed out of foul trouble for the Raptors, meaning he could contribute with a solid 27 minutes of play, shooting 7/8 from the field. With solid post-play, and being able to establish his position against Portland bigs Plumlee, Vonleh and Ed Davis, JV was able to assert himself both offensively and on the glass.
Up next for Toronto on this seven-game homestand is James Harden, Dwight Howard, and the inconsistent Houston Rockets, who meet Toronto for the first time this season on Sunday evening. The Rockets, after advancing to the western conference finals last year, have experienced a significant regression this year, centred around a disgruntled, underachieving Dwight Howard, and a dysfunctional team defense that ranks 23rd in the league. A coaching change early in the season doesn’t help either. The Raps then take on Brooklyn and Atlanta on Tuesday and Thursday at the ACC. Tip time Sunday is 6:30 pm.