If basketball games lasted 12 minutes, I’d be telling you that the Raptors won last night against the Trail Blazers in Portland.
However, regulation is 48 minutes and that’s not what happened. But, I’m here to tell you not to panic because this is the kind of growing pains that were expected entering the season. In the first half, OG came out firing as he knocked down a career-best six three’s from downtown. Toronto started out the game with great energy and ended the first quarter with a 33-24 advantage. Looking to build on that in the second quarter wasn’t easy, as the Raps shot 36.4% from the field and allowed Portland to execute their most offensively efficient quarter, shooting 71.4% from both the field and from three, on their way to 37 second-quarter points.
Let’s talk more about OG though. I feel like every time I watch him there are two things that are constantly on my mind. The first is how strong he is. We’ve seen him get the ball under the basket or grab the offensive board and instead of going up right away, he fakes his defenders, who more often than not, will bite. So far, using it in the paint is ideal for when Toronto faces teams that don’t have a daunting interior presence. It’s a satisfying sight and while it’s on display more this season than any other, it’s not translating to Ws.
The other thing I think about is how OG can seem off-balance at times. From what I’ve seen, sometimes his footing moves a little slower than his upper body and it causes him to fall down or stumble into his own feet. If his footwork improves, the only thing left for him to focus on is playmaking.
Pascal Siakam has managed to integrate himself without any issues, unless you consider that Toronto hasn’t won a game with him back in the lineup. I think that has less to do with him and more to do with the overall development of this team. After tallying 25 points, 12 boards and seven assists against Detroit, he continued his all-around production by scoring 20 points, six rebounds and six dimes. The biggest different I’m seeing in his game this year is that the ball doesn’t necessarily stop with him. He’s bought into the team and trying to look for who’s open rather than looking for his own shot first.
Gary Trent Jr. has fully earned the trust of Nurse, as he’s left out there for upwards of 32 minutes a game. It seems like years ago that he was labelled as a one dimensional player who could only shoot the ball. He’s now attacking the rim, inviting contact, and diving for loose balls. His defensive intensity has picked up and I always thought he was more productive as a starter, rather than coming off the bench. His impact on games goes far beyond the box score, as he currently leads the league in deflections and is tied for steals at second place.
Anyway, there are a couple things that stood out to me about this loss and I think they probably stood out to you too.
Reliance on starters
Here’s how many minutes the starters played last night:
Typically, it’s safe to assume that your best players will log around 35-38 minutes nightly. I think in a game that was so close, Coach Nurse was confident sticking with this group in order to keep Toronto in the game and by all accounts, he was right. But with all those minutes, the possibility of injuries only increase. Bottom line is that the production was solid, but we all saw the injuries pile up last year, in addition to players having to miss games due to COVID protocols.
On top of that, the Raptors scored a total of 113 points. Add the above point totals up and you get 101, which amounts to 89% of the total 113 that they scored last night. It just isn’t realistic or smart to rely on your starters for this every night. To paint things in a positive light, I’m glad that the starters were able to hold their own against much of what the Trail Blazers threw their way.
On the other hand, here’s how many minutes the bench played:
If Nurse is still trying to figure out his rotations, there’s no doubt the bench could use some attention. The bench unit combined for 39 minutes and only scored 12 points. Khem Birch has carved out a role for himself which is similar to what Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka did for Toronto but he’s not relied on as heavily to be a defensive anchor. Don’t get me wrong. He’s an anchor, but he’s not always the heaviest part.
It’s always nice to see Dalano Banton get minutes in the first quarter. But his impact was tiny, if anything at all and he only played for eight minutes. Svi Mykhailiuk played with some intensity but again, had very little time to get into a rhythm. Nurse gave Malachi Flynn some run time but after Goran Dragic posted solid numbers against Detroit, I wonder if he could’ve been serviceable for Toronto at some point last night.
Toronto started this game out hot. I’m Indian so we’re talking vindaloo levels of spice, specifically OG. But after the first quarter, the Raps were outscored 37-27 in the second and any chance of coming back was quickly extinguished by Portland. CJ McCollum lit Toronto up for 10 in the fourth, on his way to 29. The defence just couldn’t handle the Trail Blazers hot shooting near the end, as they continued to heat up.