Raps are legit; beat Blazers and handle Lillard | Of course the Knicks want Ujiri; can’t have em though!
Three — Superstar: The sign of a great player is that they never lose confidence. Pascal Siakam started off slow, he missed a few easy looks around the hoop and was 6-of-18 midway through the third quarter, but then hit 9-of-10 to close. Portland made a silly decision to defend Siakam in single coverage, and while they got away with it early on, Siakam eventually broke free. He tortured the likes of Mario Hezonja and Nassir Little in the post, and finished off the Blazers with his jumpshot. Siakam nailed a pull-up three to answer C.J. McCollum in the fourth, then rose up for two midrange looks over his defender to help the Raptors pull away. Siakam finished with 36 points and was nothing short of spectacular.
“Some nights it goes in and some nights it doesn’t,” VanVleet said. “I’ve accepted that.”
VanVleet’s feel for things was the truly special part of the quarter. The box score shows he had none of his assists in the frame, in which he scored 10 and Siakam scored 11 of the Raptors’ 33 points. He knew precisely what the Raptors needed.
The offence was ragged in the first half, with Siakam struggling to figure out Portland’s Nassir Little. As the game went on, Siakam worked things out against Little, to say nothing of poor Mario Hezonja. It’s unclear why Portland was not forcing the ball out of Siakam’s hands, but VanVleet was responsible for making sure the Raptors did not lose the plot.
“He was really aggressive tonight, making shots, doing what he does,” said Siakam, who wound up with 36 points. “And then obviously when I finally started making shots, (he was) kind of finding my spots and making sure that I get the ball. That’s what he does. He’s a point guard. He’s a leader. He sees everything. That’s a credit to him, too: kind of understanding what position (the team is) in.”
“Taking things in control more, getting the outlets, pushing the ball, getting the offence together, telling people where to be — he was all over that,” added Hollis-Jefferson, who chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds off of the bench. “But he was also trying to trust everybody. This time he was like, ‘You know what, we took that loss (against the Clippers), I’m gonna make sure we’re good now.’ That’s what you want from your point guard, especially with me being in, Pascal, Marc. Marc usually sets (the screen for VanVleet), sometimes he’s in the corner. Last game he might have me set it because (the centre) is on me and have Marc spaced. Just knowing where to put people and control the offence, it was spot on tonight.”
How’s this for a combined line? Sixty-six points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists on 25-for-44 shooting.
Coming into Wednesday night if you were to see that line you’d probably think it came from the Blazers’ duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but no, this was a Pascal Siakam-Fred VanVleet special.
Even more impressive? They did the brunt of their damage in the second half.
Of the 36 points Siakam put up, 24 came in the second half on scorching 10-of-15 shooting. And for VanVleet, 10 of his 30 came in the third quarter alone.
It’s astounding to think that a player taken 27th overall and an undrafted guy can become franchise cornerstones and look like superstars, but here we are.
Siakam and VanVleet absolutely burned the Blazers, and there’s no good argument out there as to why they can’t just do the same to any other club in the NBA.
Hood’s crisp shooting from the first half reached a new level in the third quarter. The former Cavs forward exploited the extra attention the Raptors paid to Lillard, leading to wide-open attempts from beyond the arc. Along with catch-and-shoot buckets, Hood continued to torch hasty close-outs by getting to the midrange with single-dribble moves. Unfortunately for Portland, Fred VanVleet was equally as hot from the same spots on the opposite end of the floor. Hood finished the quarter with 14 points, VanVleet kept pace with 10.
The Raptors pulled away in the final moments of the third frame by taking full advantage of a series of sloppy possessions from the Blazers. Turnovers and a surge from Siakam led to a 16-3 run for Toronto, putting the visitors up 87-78 after three quarters.
CJ McCollum and Mario Hezonja delivered a shot of offense into the Blazers arm to start the final quarter. McCollum utilized his usual bag of tricks to keep his defender off balance and generated five quick points to pull Portland level at 89 at the nine-minute mark. It unraveled from there.
Lillard, who has single-handedly kept the Blazers in contests to start the year, was unable to find that extra gear. VanVleet and Siakam did not encounter that problem. Toronto’s duo opened Portland’s defense like a bag of chips at altitude. VanVleet was unstoppable moving downhill and Siakam feasted on a favorable matchup against Hood. The Raptors completed a 14-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter and never looked back, handing the Blazers a 114-106 loss.
Off the bench, the Raptors also got good games from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Terence Davis. Hollis-Jefferson, who came off the bench initially with Malcolm Miller starting, quickly cemented himself as the go-to small forward off the bench. Starting the second half, Rondae continued to show what he has been this whole road trip, a quirky energy and ability to find open space around the rim. With 16 points and 11 rebounds, he was more effective finishing tonight than he was on Monday against the Clippers.
Davis, meanwhile, had 15 points and was a +19, making three important three-pointers and pulling down six rebounds.
With Lillard all but shut down, the Blazers hung in with a great shooting game from Rodney Hood, who drained five threes and scored 25. CJ McCollum got going late as well, scoring 19, but a well-executed timeout by Nick Nurse stopped McCollum’s individual 5-0 run and allowed the Raptors a response — keyed off by that aforementioned Siakam three.
Off the bench for Portland, Anfernee Simons had 17 points (6-for-11) and Mario Hezonja had ten (2-for-5).
In the end, the Raptors’ confidence regardless of who’s out there on the floor continues to shine against opponents still trying to find their way.
I’m sure part of it is a championship swagger. That doesn’t come without energized players, though, and great coaching on the part of Nick Nurse. This isn’t a team coming in with rings and malaise. There’s a lot of drive in this team, and right now, they’re fun to watch.
Credit Raptors coach Nick Nurse and his staff for schemes that have held LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and now Lillard to 13, 12 and nine points, respectively.
The offence, which seemed stuck in neutral against the Clippers, was functioning nicely despite missing some key members.
VanVleet was a big part of that but so too was the return to form by Pascal Siakam, who had all his energy on this night and turned it into 36 points. He may have single-handedly pushed Mario Hezonja towards retirement with his performance.
The evening started with some good news as Nurse announced OG Anunoby would likely miss no more than last night’s game with that bruised eye courtesy of an inadvertent finger from Leonard.
There was a little unexpected development as well as Nurse went with Malcolm Miller as his starting small forward ahead of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who had been so strong in the win over the Lakers and solid in the loss to the Clippers.
Miller got tested early and had a tough time keeping Rodney Hood in front of him. He wound up playing just over seven minutes in that first half with Nurse going to his bench early and often searching for the right combination.
Hollis-Jefferson started the second half in place of Miller.
Lillard, who entered Wednesday trailing only James Harden in points per game, had his worst outing of the season. Lillard had 2-fof-12 shooting from the field and was 2 of 7 from 3-point range. He did dish 10 assists.
“It’s the fourth team in a row to come out denying me full court. Box-and-one, I don’t remember seeing that many box-and-ones in the NBA, but I mean, they make me play against a crowd,” said Lillard. “Even when I try to get downhill and be aggressive, there’s four guys right there. The right play is to kick it ahead, get it out, that was the only option they gave me a lot of times. It’s just what it was.”
Hood stood up to the Raptors’ challenge, returning from a two-game absence with back spasms. CJ McCollum also pitched in 18 points while Anfernee Simons had 17 off the bench.
Still, the Trail Blazers once again found themselves staring at a familiar postgame script.
“I get frustrated sometimes losing games, especially losing games that we were in,” Lillard said. “If we was getting blown out, I would be getting upset about that but it wouldn’t be the same feeling. We in every game, down the stretch when it’s time to win a game we’re not doing the necessary things to get a win.”
The Raptors attacked in waves, with Siakam scoring seven straight points to close the third quarter and give the Raptors an 87-78 lead heading into the fourth.
Without Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka and Patrick McCaw, the Toronto Raptors advanced to 8-3 on the season with a gutsy eight-point road win over the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night.
Toronto is now 3-1 on a five-game road trip and continues to find ways to win despite missing key contributors. In the win, Pascal Siakam finished with a game-high 36 points while Fred VanVleet finished with 30 points (on 10-for-16 shooting).
The bench was big for Toronto, as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson recorded a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double while Terence Davis scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds.
For Portland, Damian Lillard struggled throughout the night, scoring just nine points while shooting 2-for-12 from the field. The Trail Blazers were led by Rodney Hood’s 25 points while CJ McCollum added 19 points in 36 minutes.
If you missed any of the action, check below throughout the night for live score updates, highlights, stats, news and more from Wednesday night’s game.
And who built it? Of course the Knicks want Ujiri, just as the Washington Wizards wanted him at the end of the playoffs. It’s hard to argue that he’s not the best executive in the NBA.
But this is life as a champion, and maybe people need to stop thinking of Ujiri as merely an executive. Everybody in the league knows that Giannis Antetokounmpo is a free agent in 2021. If Giannis leaves Milwaukee — and there have already been reports, most notably from Malika Andrews of ESPN.com, that if the Bucks don’t make the Finals this year it will affect his free-agency decision — then he can change the NBA world.
The Raptors, pretty clearly, would like to be in that running. They will preserve a max contract slot in the summer of 2021 in case they can put another star next to Siakam, and ideally Anunoby and VanVleet. Adding Giannis would create a championship contender for years to come.
They probably should have signed Ujiri to an extension in the summer, after the title. But asked about it in the locker room after Game 6, part-owner Larry Tanenbaum said, “I know Masai. He’s like my son; there’s no chance he’s leaving Toronto.” He added, “I think if you ask Masai, he’s got everything he wants.”
Maybe so. But until a long-term contract is done here, Ujiri isn’t just an executive. He’s Toronto’s Giannis. He’s the difference-maker, the superstar, one of the few people in the world who can turn around any organization. The Knicks have swallowed up basketball men over the years, but he fixed Toronto. He could fix them.
So get to used to other teams making googly eyes, and flashing wads of cash because this is just life with the Raptors now. Ujiri has built one of the very best organizations in the NBA, is widely admired for his work in the front office and in Africa, and like Giannis, there is only one of him. And like Giannis, everybody would like him on their side.
Put Some Respect on the Raptors’ Name
The defending NBA champs are currently 7-3 and playing without four of their best players from last year’s title team. Looking at the roster right now, Toronto shouldn’t be this good. Yet analytically speaking, they’re one of the top teams in the league. Yeah, it’s a small sample size, but put some respect on the Raptors’ name as an Eastern Conference contender.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green currently play basketball in Los Angeles, albeit on different teams, while Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry are missing in action for the Raptors with injuries. Toronto barely resembles the Raptors we saw this past June, but entering action Monday night they were a top five team in net rating, effective field goal percentage, and are top eight in offensive and defensive rating. Led by Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, Toronto plays as hard as anyone in the league, pesters teams defensively, and nearly pulled off the ultra impressive sweep of the Lakers and Clippers on consecutive nights.
“Back-to-backs are tough and this is one of the toughest ones you can play,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Monday.
They fell short of beating arguably the NBA’s two best teams on consecutive nights, but the Raptors deserve credit for overcoming an 11-point deficit to the Lakers to win Sunday and holding Leonard in check offensively Monday. Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have stepped up in the absence of others and maybe it’s time to start thinking about how the Raptors will be a massive pain in the ass to play when their point guard is healthy and one of their best bigs off the bench is available again.
“I think we’re showing that those guys that aren’t playing can maybe help us,” VanVleet said. “We know that we’re a tough bunch. We’re going to fight hard, our defense is really good, we know that we’ve got to fix some things on offense.”
VanVleet was being modest after the Clippers loss. While Los Angeles deserved credit for getting the win, Toronto was a few foul calls and rimmed out layups and threes away from the most impressive two wins of the season.
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