Raptors’ title hopes dashed in dispiriting LVSL loss to Blazers

Raptors 85 , Trail Blazers 91 | Box Score

The Toronto Raptors are snake-bitten at Las Vegas Summer League. For the third year in a row, they were dominant in the opening stage of the tournament. They earned the top overall seed for the second consecutive year, too. As has been the case in each of the last two summers, though, they came up short in the elimination stage, dropping a frustrating 91-85 decision to the Portland Trail Blazers.

“We had a couple turnovers and missed some open shots and they were able to capitalize,” Fred VanVleet said afterward. “We started fouling, the refs tightened up a little bit, and we didn’t adjust well enough. We just didn’t play well enough to win overall.”

The Raptors started out a little sloppier than they have in any other game here, which, you know, on my seventh day in Vegas, I totally understand. With a switch-heavy scheme on ball screens, they missed a few rotations or broke down late in the clock, and Portland made them pay early on to the tune of a six-point lead. Toronto was also a little slower to get going offensively, scoring just six points in the first six-plus minutes before Alfonzo McKinnie slammed home a put-back – his fourth consecutive game with one – off of a tough VanVleet mix. That got things moving a bit, with VanVleet barrelling into chests for fouls and McKinnie coming through with a corner three shortly after. A Will Sheehey dunk off of a turnover looked to wrap a mini-comeback, but some carelessness set back in and the Raptors trailed by four through a frame.

The offense sputtered once again when the bench filtered in, and short of forcing a steady diet of Portland turnovers, the defense grew shaky. Jake Layman had an extended stretch of taking over, turning away a few Sheehey shots, hitting a pair of threes, and floating in for a dunk. If it weren’t for VanVleet sensing the need and then dominating the back half of the second quarter, the Raptors may have been in trouble. As it was, though, VanVleet’s extra gear and pre-veteran poise kept things well in hand, with the teams entering the break tied at 44.

Coming out of the half, Toronto looked to go a little smaller, probably wanting to stagger Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl so they’d both be fresh for what was promising to be a tight stretch run. It was Jordan Loyd giving the team a huge boost in the third quarter, though, chipping in seven points out of the gate. Poeltl was a nice presence on the offensive glass – not exactly a shocker, I realize – and turned away an R.J. Hunter attempt before turning things over to Siakam in an alternate four-around-one look. Siakam’s worst game of the tournament to date continued, and he was back on the bench in short order (he had picked up four fouls in 16 minutes and would eventually foul out). The late-quarter slide cut what had once grown to a seven-point lead to one entering the fourth.

That set up a pretty frustrating final frame for the Raptors, who were on the wrong end of a 12-3 run to dig themselves a tough hole. The small lineup struggled opposite Jarnell Stokes and Caleb Swanigan (Cole Huff on Stokes is a mismatch, you know?), and a few quick turnovers meant the Raptors needed to lean back on their starters for the final six minutes to make up ground.

“I think they had big bodies. Their physicality kind of wore on us, our younger guys. I think they took our legs a little bit,” coach Patrick Mutombo said.

It looked like for the third year in a row after a great start to the tournament, though, it just wasn’t in the cards. VanVleet and McKinnie miscommunicated in transition (it was probably a missed call, to be fair), Poeltl got beat by a Swanigan spin-move, and VanVleet missed a tough shot through contact. But Siakam found VanVleet for a three late in the clock, then stole a high-low after the Raptors were whistled for a pair of fouls, and VanVleet pushed the pace in transition, and Siakam finally got it going with a nice attack from the corner. In a blink, the Raptors were only down three.

Alas, the lack of meaningful contribution from the bench and a frigid 7-of-35 mark from the 3-point line as a team was just too much, and the Raptors couldn’t climb that final summit.

“Yeah, we had a couple rushed ones, but for the most part they were nice looks, open looks off of good penetration and passing,” VanVleet said. “Maybe the passes could have been a little bit more on target, from our part. But you gotta take ’em, and that’s part of it. That’s the way we wanna play going forward, is getting up more threes and pace and moving the ball, so you know, tonight was one of those nights they just didn’t go in, it seemed like.”

They most certainly did not, and despite their late push to try to claw back into it, the Raptors came up on the wrong end of another elimination game. As much as it may appear to be “just” Summer League from the outside, the Raptors wanted to win the championship here in Vegas, especially those who had been a part of the team last year, and even the year before (from a staff perspective). The momentum of the young Raptors going from D-League champions to Summer League champions would have been appreciated, and a longer tournament in a heated one-and-done format creates more opportunities for learning and development.

The team was fairly dejected after the loss, and they’ll probably come out hungry Friday looking to wrap their tournament on a somewhat positive note. It would seem unlikely that any of the three Raptors’ sophomores here will be back again next year, so consider this season a culture reset of sorts for the Summer League team.


  • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason.
  • This was a disappointing time for Siakam to have a shaky outing. He finished with just two points and three rebounds and lacked a bit of the pop and confidence he’s had in earlier games, perhaps because of the quick whistle. Poeltl was efficient when he got looks, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds on five attempts, but he struggled a bit to establish inside against a beefy frontcourt. That left VanVleet to do a lot himself, leading to a 31-6-3 line, though he was upset with himself for playing his way into foul trouble.
    • The big three needed some help here, but outside of McKinnie (11 points, nine rebounds, and a late injury, though he seemed to be okay after the game) and Loyd (17 points), it just wasn’t there. The bench was 1-of-16 on threes, which is a number that is apparently possible.
  • Former Raptors’ second-round pick DeAndre Daniels is here with Portland. He hit a three in the first half but has otherwise had an unremarkable showing. Stokes and Swanigan had a nice game as a twin-towers of sorts inside, even playing together some, and Nick Johnson got hot with his jumper.
  • Goodluck Okonoboh has been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament with knee tendinitis. OG Anunoby (knee) and Malcolm Miller (ankle) are also out for the tournament.
    • Jamario Moon was in attendance.
  • The Raptors now end their tournament against the  Cavaliers at 10:30 pm ET on Friday.

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