Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 16

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Cover Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Raptors’ Gary Trent Jr. and Blazers’ Norman Powell fitting in just fine with new teams – The Athletic

The Trail Blazers use three players who are 6-foot-3 and under, while the Raptors use three players who are 6-7 or taller. You can do the math: That means one tall guy is always guarding one not-so-tall guy when Portland has the ball, and vice versa when the Raptors have the ball. The issue is that when one of those shorter players is Lillard, it’s a problem. Whether it was VanVleet, Scottie Barnes or OG Anunoby, Lillard created a lot of straight drives to the rim. It was all Lillard as the Trail Blazers climbed back into the game at the end of the second quarter.

“Even the best (defenders) have a hard time guarding those guys one-on-one,” Nurse said of his defensive schemes. “Usually, there is a team aspect to it of how much help you’re providing in your ability to pinch down a little and then if they do fire it back out, your ability to get back out and make the next play difficult as well.”

Powell didn’t need a storybook night for Trail Blazers to overcome Raptors

The Trail Blazers pulled way for the 118-113 win with a 20-7 run to start the fourth quarter of what was, at that point, a tie game. The Raptors pushed back multiple times. Trailing by 11 with 4:09 left, Fred VanVleet hit a long three in transition, set up Pascal Siakam for a floater in the paint and – after a pair of missed threes by OG Anunoby – grabbed the rebound and knocked down another three. That made it a one-point game with 1:51 to play. But Portland scored six unanswered points from there to pull away for good.

The Raptors fell to 7-8 as they begin their six-game road trip, while Portland improved to 7-8 while winning on the second night of a back-to-back.

Powell didn’t have signature night at either end of the floor, finishing with 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting.

Instead, it was Gary Trent Jr. who showed well against his old team in his old building, putting up 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting, though he did suffer the misfortune of having his old teammate CJ McCollum put the game on ice when he scored on Trent Jr. in isolation in the game’s final minute.

But Powell will at least have bragging rights to hold over VanVleet in their frequent text exchanges, as the Trail Blazers improved to 2-0 over the Raptors since he joined them, going back to last season.

The reason last night at least, was that the Raptors struggled down the stretch defensively. There are likely a lot of factors at work there – trying to contain McCollum and Damian Lillard is a task many teams have failed before.

It probably doesn’t help that the Raptors’ starters all played between 39 and 41 minutes. But, then again, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse clearly doesn’t have confidence in his bench at the moment. Perhaps with good reason: Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malachi Flynn were a combined -28 in 20 minutes of floor time.

“I would say this, I don’t think as a team we guarded very well,” said Nurse. “I don’t know if it’s looking at matchups and things like that, I just think that I mean when they shoot 56 per cent …”

Big Men Finally Come Through as Blazers Down Raptors – Blazer’s Edge

Win or lose, most of the focus this season has been on Portland’s substantial (perhaps bloated) guard corps. Backcourt players made a huge impact tonight. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum attempted 39 of Portland’s 82 shots, scoring 53 between them.

Those numbers would have led to a predictably fancy loss had it not been for Larry Nance, Jr. and Jusuf Nurkic.

Nance, Jr. keyed Portland’s bench after the starting unit laid an egg (topped with soggy-shredded-wheat defense) in the first period. He put it into overdrive on the defensive end, watching the rim and ranging on the floor seemingly all at once. On offense he provided the pivot point that the Blazers have hoped Nurkic would become. Nance flipped a couple nice passes from the lane, set screens to free shooters, and converted dunks and layups whenever he received the ball in return. His energy brought Portland to life.

Nurkic picked up on the vibe during his second shift and for most of them thereafter. He didn’t touch the ball much on offense. That’s usually the cue for him to detach from the game. He did the opposite tonight, standing in the lane like Horatius at the bridge. His stat line reads 0 blocks, but the scorekeeper probably gave a couple of multiple-player rejections to smaller teammates. Nurkic stopped the Raptors at the rim whenever he was in the vicinity, delaying scorers enough to allow extra defenders—plus their arms and hands—into the play.

This wasn’t a perfect defensive game from the Blazers. The Raptors scored 20 points in transition and shot 45.5% from the three-point arc. Every Toronto starter scored at least 16 points. OG Anunoby had 29. It was an energetic—and ultimately sufficient—effort though. Nurkic and Nance belong first on the list, crediting how it was possible.

Portland Trail Blazers shake off sluggish start to beat Toronto Raptors 118-113 –

The Blazers began this game similarly to how poorly they started at Denver and promptly fell behind 13-3 before three minutes had passed in the quarter. Portland bounced back and finished the quarter down 33-24 after allowing the Raptors to shoot 59.1% from the field and shoot 7 of 13 on mostly wide-open threes. OG Anunoby scored 14 for the Raptors (7-8).

The defense of the Blazers’ second unit played a big part in slowing down the Raptors in the second quarter. Toronto shot just 36.4% for the quarter while finding baskets difficult to come by, especially when Nassir Little, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell were on the floor for Portland. Meanwhile, the Blazers took over as the hot team on offense, shooting 71.4% from the field. Lillard scored 10 points in the quarter, which the Blazers won 37-27 to take a 61-60 lead into halftime. Anunoby scored 23 in the first half. Lillard had 16.

The game stood at 85-85 heading into the fourth quarter, when the Blazers seized and then maintained control thanks in large art to Nance and Little. Both played the entire fourth quarter to help defend against Toronto’s small lineup.

“They gave us so much versatility,” Billups. “I thought they played extremely hard.”

Portland began the fourth with a 20-footer from McCollum, a three from Lillard and then a three from McCollum to lead 93-85. The Raptors trailed 99-92 with 8:07 remaining before the Blazers went on another run. This one began with a Little three and ended with a McCollum three off of a slick pass from Lillard after he drove to the left side of the lane. The basket gave the Blazers a 105-92 lead with 7:20 to go and triggered a Raptors timeout. The subsequent discussion paid off for the Raptors, who answered with a 9-0 run to make the score 105-91 with 5:34 to go.

Portland got to a 112-105 lead, but Fred VanVleet hit two threes to leave the score at 112-111 with 1:51 to go.

But Portland dominated the rest of the way. The key moment came when McCollum sized up Gary Trent Jr. like a shark eyeing familiar prey, pump faked his former teammate into the air and then scored on the leaner to give the Blazers a 116-111 lead with 48.3 seconds left.

Trent scored 18 points with six rebounds after receiving a big ovation while being introduced with the starters.

Recap: Toronto Raptors set off fireworks late, but Portland Trail Blazers win 118-113 – Raptors HQ

Portland as a team shot 56.1% and 44.4% from three, including both their stars shooting 50% or better from distance at volume. That’s a tough recipe for any opponent, just given how the Blazers are made up, and the Raptors weren’t any exception.

In fact, this looked like one of the better Raptors games over the last five. Leading the team in points, Anunoby made his first six threes in the first 18 minutes, scoring 23 of his 29 before we’d had a chance to catch our breath. Then, at the end, it was Fred VanVleet — who drilled two threes in surprising situations, one pulling up on the break and the other pulling it back out after an offensive rebound, to keep the game close. VanVleet would finish with 16 points in 40 minutes.

The glue holding it together was Scottie Barnes. Earning the ire of Lillard and McCollum as he took turns guarding them both (and Jusuf Nurkic in the first half, ho hum), Barnes’ defense was one of the bright spots for Toronto. He made some defensive mistakes late that cost the team finishing off its comeback, but the flashes are still good enough to make up for it. If you had him making athletic plays with this much poise coming into his rookie year, you’re a liar.

Barnes would finish with 18 points, eight rebounds and two assists.

Unfortunately, the Raptors just didn’t get enough pop from their bench to win any of those minutes. There wasn’t much runway for error in those transition periods tonight, but Birch’s and Svi Mykhailiuk’s struggles on defense did cost the Raptors, even if they made some good plays on the other end.

Raptors Can’t Slow Trail Blazers in High Scoring Affair – Sports Illustrated

The problem for Toronto on Monday, however, wasn’t the offense. Even with so many players still developing on that side of the court, the Raptors’ defense looked lost against the high octane Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum repeatedly beat Toronto’s defense for blow-by buckets at the rim or deadly three-pointers. Just when Toronto cut Portland’s lead down to four thanks to a 7-0 run, McCollum nailed a floater and found Larry Nance Jr. for a transition dunk to close out the night.

Fred VanVleet did go toe to toe with Lillard down the stretch, looking every bit his equal in the fourth quarter. After a slow start, scoring just five points through three quarters, Toronto’s lead guard broke out for 11 points in the fourth, nailing a trio of clutch three-pointers to keep the Raptors alive late.

The Trail Blazers certainly deserve credit for the offensive firepower they showed. They had one of their best shooting performance of the season, killing Toronto with a 56% mark from the floor, but the Raptors are supposed to be a team built to prevent nights like that from happening. Unfortunately for Toronto, Nurse’s hyper-aggressive defensive scheme has created a few too many open shots for opposing teams to take advantage of.

Former Raptor Norm Powell is set for life, and still as driven as ever to be the best with the Trail Blazers | The Star

Powell has become a dynamic part of an explosive Portland offence anchored by him, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Powell didn’t have a brilliant offensive game against his old friends and teammates Monday but his backcourt mates did. McCollum and Lillard combined for 53 points and McCollum hit a leaner in the lane to put Portland up five point with 48.3 seconds left for the game-breaking basket.

Fred VanVleet had hit three straight pull-up three-pointers to the Raptors back in the game before a costly Scottie Barnes turnover preceded McCollum’s basket.

OG Anunoby led Toronto with 29 points.

Powell began Monday’s game shooting an exceptional 44.8 per cent from three-point range on nearly five long-distance attempts per game. It’s keeping up the torrid shooting he showed at the end of his Toronto tenure: Powell has shot 40 per cent or better from three-point range for the past three seasons.

“Norm’s had some really good moments for us this year,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “He can really get it going. He’s a great shooter. He’s pretty competitive on the defensive end. He won’t back down from anybody. He’s been fun, a joy to coach.”

His contract will take him until he’s 33 years old and likely leave room for one more deal in his career, given good health and no calamities.

“I want to establish myself as one of the best players in the league, I want to make an all-star team, I want to win the awards that the top players have,” Powell said. “That’s always been my goal. Obviously it changes based on roles and things like that with the team but those will always be my expectations. So I’m going to continue to work and continue to plug away.”

No matter how much money he has in the bank, or how much he is owed.

Quick start goes for naught as Raptors fall short in Portland | Toronto Sun

Anunoby finished up with 29 for the game, but when the Trail Blazers turned the water off on him after that explosive first half, no one really stepped into the breech.

Gary Trent Jr., playing his first game in Portland since that trade last March for Norm Powell, had 18 in the game while Pascal Siakam, playing in his fourth game since returning from that shoulder surgery, had 20 but it wasn’t enough.

Not with Damian Lillard, himself back in the lineup after a one-game absence dealing with some abdominal pain, put up 24 or his backcourt mate CJ McCollom going off for 29 as that stellar backcourt took this one home for the Blazers.

The Raptors didn’t go away all together in this one, coming back from double-digit deficits on three separate occasions in the second half to get back within three each time, but both times the comeback stalled there.

Fred VanVleet, back in the lineup after a one-game absence, was in the middle of each of those comebacks as his scoring picked up after a slow start finishing the night with 16, the bulk of that coming late in the game when his team needed him most.

The anticipated duel between Trent Jr. and Powell, the two high-scoring wings traded for one another was not really part of the narrative.

Trent Jr. won the scoring battle 18-10 but Powell and the Blazers got the result.

Seven thoughts as Raptors open road trip with narrow loss to Trail Blazers | Canada

When the Trail Blazers backcourt is locked in like this, they are a tough team to beat.

McCollum led the Blazers with 29 points and six assists on 11-of-18 shooting and 6-of-11 from the 3-point line, while Lillard recorded 24 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals on 10-of-21 shooting and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.

The duo opened the fourth quarter burying bucket after bucket to go on a 10-0 run and put the Blazers in control, before the Raptors cut the deficit to 105-101 with a 9-0 run of their own.

McCollum continued to score down the stretch and came up with a huge defensive play, meeting Scottie Barnes at the rim for the emphatic rejection.

Portland as a team shot 56.1 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three.

NBA Power Rankings, Week 5 – The Golden State Warriors’ comeback is complete, plus our new 1-30 breakdown – ESPN

This Week: 17
Last Week: 14

It appears Toronto is going to be a difficult team to face, and a hard one to get a read on. Thursday, the Raptors had a nice come-from-behind win in Philadelphia, only to come home and drop a game to the Pistons on Saturday night. Toronto is yet another team that should be in the play-in mix all season long in the East. — Bontemps

NBA Power Rankings: Warriors on top, Clippers and Suns surge, plus a chaos check for all 30 teams (even yours!) – The Athletic

This Week: 19
Last Week: 17

How did the chaos hit the Toronto Raptors? The Toronto Raptors have been all over the place. They started out 1-3, then they won five straight games and then lost four out of their next five games as they started integrating Pascal Siakam back into the mix in the process. Their defense slipped considerably as their offense shot up the ranks. This team doesn’t seem to have a good handle on its identity, but Siakam getting back to All-Star form would certainly help settle a lot of that. The key for the Raptors is figuring out where they are in their development plan. Will they sacrifice wins and experience for developing the young guys, or do they truly believe they can accomplish both at the same time consistently?

Why is the team here this week? The Raptors had to drop a little bit here, especially with losing four of their last five. The loss to Detroit helped sink them into the lower tier because you just can’t lose that game if you’re Toronto. They have to feast on Detroit.

Author’s note: The Raptors fall into the Play-In Tournament Gives Them Life tier with their recent downturn, but I have a feeling they’ll be bouncing back and forth quite a bit this season. They’re the basketball team equivalent of a quadruple-A player in baseball.

NBA Power Rankings: Stephen Curry, Warriors cruise to No. 1 spot; surprising Wizards, Nuggets make big jumps –

This Week: 19
Last Week: 13

After a big climb last week, the Raptors fall in the rankings after losses to the Cavs, Nets and Celtics. The normally stingy defense betrayed Toronto this week, as it allowed nearly 114 points per 100 possessions in the three losses. The silver lining is that Pascal Siakam made his season debut, averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 27.5 minutes over two games. Fred VanVleet led the offense with 18.3 points and 6.7 assists per game on 44 percent 3-point shooting.

Raptors were to draft Kevin Garnett in 1995, says former executive Isiah Thomas | Canada

“Kevin McHale calls me up a week before the draft and he goes ‘are you going to draft him?'” Thomas recalled in the documentary. “And I said, ‘if he’s at seven, I’m going to take him. And he said, ‘do you think I should draft him at five? It’s between [him] and [Damon] Stoudamire’ – that’s what I have on my board also.”

“I couldn’t lie to McHale,” Thomas said laughing, “so he ended up taking him, and I ended up with Stoudamire.”

Months after retiring from the NBA in 1994, Thomas joined the Raptors organization as a part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations.

As the Raptors prepared for their first season in 1995, Thomas, who is a native of Chicago, got his first look at Garnett as a high school senior in the Chicagoland area. In “Anything Is Possible,” the two recall their first interactions and Garnett cites Thomas as a major influence in his decision to enter the NBA Draft out of high school.

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