Hours – I’m not sure how many, so we’re using an umbrella here – before tipoff, Kyle Lowry was announced as unavailable for last night’s game against the Blazers. Almost as if the basketball gods wanted the hot takes to be extra spicy after the game, Kawhi Leonard started. The Blazers who were mostly healthy, took advantage of the in flux Raptors, and used continuity in their sets to beat the league’s top squad.
A bit of a slog at times, the game was perfectly sandwiched by the incredible series of events that transpired between Phoenix, Memphis, and Washington. Even though the Raptors lost, and the offense was strained without Lowry; we can all join hands and thank the old gods and the new, that we are not Washington or Phoenix.
Fred VanVleet got his third start in a row, only this time he slotted in at point guard. The early returns were pretty good as he orchestrated the offense in a Lowry-esque fashion, dropping pocket passes and the like. Serge Ibaka was happy to score off the dive and short-roll and the Raptors came out strong. Only the Blazers adjusted their pick n’ roll defense slightly, pressuring VanVleet to create outside of finding the dive-man and the Raptors offense stalled. That coinciding with an off-game from Pascal Siakam and a freezing cold start for Leonard, spelled doom early.
After 3 lead changes in first 8 minutes, the Blazers never let the Raptors in front again. On a night where the Raptors bench was outscored 58 to 26, and they turned the ball over twice as much as their opponents – 16 to 8 – even a blistering hot shooting night couldn’t steal a win. Danny Green, Leonard, VanVleet, and CJ Miles combined for a remarkable 15/23 from downtown, and still the Blazers took this game at home.
A day after myself, Vivek Jacob, and Louis Zatzman all rave about VanVleet’s defense, he has a bit of a letdown. While this isn’t altogether surprising – he does struggle with bigger guards, of course – it was disappointing to see Damian Lillard get off for 24 points on 80-percent shooting. Some of the cuts that he and CJ McCollum made last night were incredibly dynamic. Dropping off to a big man before taking off around a flare screeen, coming out on the other side for a triple. Very tough sequences to defend if you’re not switching.
Ibaka left nothing to be desired on the offensive end, providing his usual excellent work there, but Jusuf Nurkic proved a bit too physical, a bit too burly at times on defense. A real wrecking ball in the lane, and he looked the best big man in the game for most of the night. In other front-court news, Siakam left the game due to injury – I’m not sure what at this point – likely caused by the flagrant-1 that was assessed to McCollum. An errant pull on Siakam’s arm as he rose for a dunk sent him spilling about, and without his legs under him, he was subject to a tough fall.
The late stages of the third quarter provided a stage for VanVleet as he strung together 10 points in a short amount of time. A touch of Greg ‘Moose’ Monroe, who poured in 3 buckets himself, brought the Raptors to within 2 points. Setting the stage for a massive Leonard performance.
Leonard’s 14-point effort in the 4th almost brought the Raptors all the way back. The only thing missing – as it had been all game – was the defense necessary to come all the way back. The Blazers poured in 37-points in the final frame on 60-percent shooting. It’s a tough ask to stage a comeback when the other team is scoring at the same rate as you. Defensive breakdowns galore led to a few open triples that kept the fighting Raptors at bay.
Even though the Raptors put up 122 points, the offense came off as really sloppy and without form. The scoring coming on the back of incredible shot-making as opposed to a system designed to create easy shots. They eventually fell to the Blazers 128-122, and their tight-grip on the league’s best record falters ever so slightly. Hopefully Lowry makes his return to the line-up in Denver, and rather than worry about how the team looks without Lowry, or Leonard, we can focus on how good the team can be with them both.
Have a blessed day.