In many ways, Sunday’s game vs Portland was a textbook win for Toronto.
Each starter scored in double figures, the ball movement was there for 26 assists and the bench helped to extend the lead, which has been a rarity this season. 11 Raptors played, 10 saw at least 10 minutes and the only one who didn’t (Thad Young) had nine. Most importantly, nobody touched the 40 minute mark.
Scottie and Pascal early
Barnes has been seeing the drop coverage look for a few games now, and is starting to simply take what the defence is giving him. Jusuf Nurkic isn’t able to coverage as much space as Brook Lopez or Mitchell Robinson, so Scottie had ample room to settle into a midrange shot or take the open three, something Nick Nurse has been asking the entire offence to do when the shot is there.
Barnes finished with 22 points, his 25th career 20-point game which is the most by a Raptor aged 21 or younger since DeMar DeRozan. After a string of games where Barnes didn’t get his first basket into the fourth quarter, this was much needed.
“Just take it, everybody, we don’t want to look for another action. We’ve already generated probably the best shot we’re going to in that possession. Usually when you turn down catch and shoot threes, you’re going to end with a worse shot than you already had looking for something better. So you take the good one, even if it’s early in the offence.”Nick Nurse
Siakam had also struggled offensively over the last two games, shooting 8-32. The Knicks especially keyed on him after his 52-point game the previous meeting. After an early timeout with the Raptors down 14-8, Pascal put together a nice stretch with 13 of his 27 points to put Toronto up seven after the first quarter. This was also one of Christian Koloko’s better offensive games, as the two worked well off each other.
The question for much of this season is how do the Raptors survive with Siakam or Fred VanVleet off the court. VanVleet credited the second quarter stretch by the bench (a lineup of Malachi Flynn, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and Koloko along with Gary Trent Jr.) for getting the win postgame. The Raptors extended an eight point lead to 15, where Portland didn’t score a point for nearly a nine minute stretch.
Boucher and Achiuwa provided rim protection and Precious also had a couple of finishes on offence. Nurse mentioned that Achiuwa is getting “closer” to playing more minutes, possibly being one of the first subs and playing with the starters.
Trent was the main offensive option in this lineup, creating space for a pair of timely threes.
Fred, Pascal in the clutch
That same bench lineup didn’t fare as well to begin the fourth quarter, mainly because they were going against Portland’s starters this time as opposed to the reserves in the second. A quick 13-5 run cut Toronto’s lead from 15 to seven in three minutes, forcing a Nurse timeout.
Shortly after, VanVleet had a key sequence in a one possession game to put this game away for good.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen VanVleet that fired up. Finals Game 6 anyone?
“That was a big swing. I just air balled one, go down hit one, do the vertical get another one and they call a timeout. That’s just a big swing there. Just competing in the moment and trying to find a way to get it done and we were able to do that tonight.”Fred VanVleet
What also shouldn’t be lost down the stretch is Siakam spending some possessions guarding Damian Lillard and forcing two key turnovers. Dame had a game high 34 points but also coughed up the ball seven times. The Blazers committed 24 turnovers in total, leading to 29 Raptor points.
Sidenotes: Thad and Scottie at halftime
Their disagreement just before the 3rd quarter didn’t take long to go viral.
Both players were asked what happened after the game. Simply appears to be the occasional mix up, basically nothing.
Sidenotes: Fred’s contract extension?
It was reported earlier in the week that VanVleet turned down a $114 million extension. Fred wanted to get the record straight in detail.
Up next: The Raptors play three straight games vs teams under .500. The first two are against the Hornets on Tuesday and Thursday, both at home.