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Raptors defend home court against the Blazers | Fred, Pascal, and Barnes had a good game at the same time | VanVleet was never offered an extension in the offseason

Raptors-Trail Blazers observations: Scottie Barnes asserts self in multiple ways – The Athletic

Nothing can be normal for the Raptors right now.

Even in breaking a three-game losing streak and winning the first game in three tries on what could be a make-or-break six-game homestand, two players still got caught on camera arguing during warmups. This season has been perfectly imperfect.

Most importantly, the Raptors did not find a new way to lose. In fact, this was one of the Raptors’ more complete games of the season, albeit against a struggling opponent. Here’s what stood out from the Raptors’ 117-105 win over Portland on Sunday.

Here’s looking at the rim, Scottie

As was the case for Toronto against Indiana and Milwaukee earlier in the week, the Trail Blazers had their starting centre sag way off Scottie Barnes to prioritize defence at the rim. Barnes went out of the way to get off the ball and use his screening to get better shooters good looks earlier in the week. It worked against the Pacers and absolutely did not work against the Bucks. He also didn’t record a field goal until the fourth quarter against the Knicks on Friday.

Barnes shouldn’t be forcing shots that the opponent is giving to him easily, but he is too strong and skilled to not use the space that is being given to him. He’s not as limited offensively as Christian Koloko. Barnes has to look at the basket, even if he doesn’t want to shoot.

Against Portland, Barnes picked that up quickly. He took a dribble and hit a short jumper early, and then fired a 3 when Jusuf Nurkić continued to camp out near the rim. At that point, Portland changed things enough that the Raptors could find other holes, with Barnes cutting when Nurkić went down to provide help inside on O.G. Anunoby. Barnes has to present himself as a scoring threat — that’s all. He had 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

“Seeing it constantly over these last five, six games, just trying to adapt to the role,” Barnes said. “I have to say I like it, being able to facilitate the offence, moving it side to side, being able to go downhill, attacking the rim. I like it.”

“When we call your number, be one of those guys that goes a little bit to the end until they stop you,” coach Nick Nurse added about the possibility of calling more plays to get Barnes involved earlier. “Still gotta make the right read and the right play, but … be aggressive.”

Raptors’ win vs. Blazers a reminder of how things are supposed to look – Sportsnet

But even as Portland jumped out to 14-8 lead, Toronto was showing some good signs. Chiefly a more aggressive opening from Barnes who has been largely ignored by opposing coverages who are often content to put a man on him – Nurkic in this case – and sag into the paint, challenging the Raptors wing to make them pay.

Barnes showed he was ready to do just that early as he stepped into a foul line jumper and then a triple on his way to an eight-point first quarter, his best since Dec. 23rd. Barnes had scored just a single point in quarters one through three against both Milwaukee and New York, and getting him engaged earlier was a priority, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said before the game.

Just as important was Siakam taking advantage of a succession of smaller defenders the Trail Blazers had to use to cover him. Siakam was 8-of-32 over his past two games but was 6-of-9 from the floor in the first quarter for 13 points as Toronto jumped out to a 34-27 lead.

“[I] felt good early,” said Barnes. “I’ve been working on it. I wanted to step in there with confidence, be able to take up that space, shoot some, get to the mid-range. I felt pretty good going early.”

And as for his disagreement with Young, where teammates had to separate them as they exchanged angry words?

“Just a little disagreement,” said Barnes. “It was nothing serious. … I love Thad. We hugged it out, that’s my boy, always.”

Young, the Raptors 16-year veteran who is one of the adults in the Raptors room, corroborated:

“It’s not a big deal, it’s just brothers going back and forth and like I said, we hugged it out and dapped it up and he told me he loved me and I told him I loved him back,” said Young. “Nothing different than that.”

The Raptors bench will have to be part of that and that was another positive Sunday. A mixture of starters and bench players gave up big runs to start the second and fourth quarters against the Knicks on Friday and the bench as a whole had been badly out-played in the two games previous to that.

Nurse went with a line-up featuring starter Gary Trent Jr. and four subs, including Chris Boucher, Christian Koloko, Malachi Flynn, Precious Achiuwa, and later Thad Young, which struck gold. By the time the rest of the Raptors’ regulars checked back in Toronto had pushed their lead to 19 points. One adjustment was to have the second unit play zone, as a means to simplify their defensive responsibilities.

Naturally, the starters ended up giving some of it back – the opposite of the recent trend – in a 17-2 run that was largely engineered by Lillard who had a pair of steals, a pair of assists and got things started with a three-point play as the Raptors lead was trimmed to just 56-51 at half.

But VanVleet seemed determined to not let another gettable game slip away at home. As much as his shooting stroke has been a problem for much of the season, he’s still more than capable of changing the flow of a game with his defence, playmaking, and scoring.

“Freddie is an impact guy, to me,” said Portland head coach Chauncey Billups. “… the numbers don’t mean anything to me … his IQ is incredible. His toughness, his skillset, all those things are really high level, so, he’s a problem.”

VanVleet’s fingerprints were all over a 14-0 run Toronto used to start the second half, assisting on Toronto’s first two scores, connecting on a three blunting the point of Portland’s attack. Suddenly Toronto was up 19, matching their largest lead of the game, and they largely held onto it too, taking an 89-74 lead into the fourth.

The game wasn’t easy from there, but the Raptors stayed with it and got a positive result, something that has been missing lately.

Trail Blazers lose 117-105 at Toronto Raptors, fall below .500 for 1st time this season: At the buzzer –

The only ingredient missing Sunday from the Blazers’ three previous road losses was poor fourth quarter play. The Blazers, who averaged 18 points in the final quarter of their three previous defeats, shot 52.2% from the field and outscored Toronto 31-28 in the final quarter.

Unfortunately for the Blazers, it didn’t help them overcome an 89-74 deficit heading into the fourth. The double-digit hole was fueled, in part, by 10 Portland turnovers that led to 12 Raptors points.

By the end of the game, the Blazers had committed 24 turnovers that Toronto converted into 29 points.

Many times this season, the Blazers have overcome sloppy turnovers with accurate three-point shooting. Not this time. Portland shot 30% from long range (9 of 30), while allowing one of the NBA’s worst three-point shooting teams to shoot 38.9% (12 of 31).

Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 34 points and eight assists, but committed seven turnovers. Anfernee Simons scored 22 points and Josh Hart added 18.

The Blazers bench, which has been a problem much of the season, managed just three points in 40 combined minutes. Shaedon Sharpe was the only Blazers backup to score, but he also committed two turnovers. Four other bench players went scoreless.

Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said he warned his team to take care of the ball against the Raptors, who entered the day leading the NBA in turnovers forced (17.1 per game).

“They’re the best in the league at it,” Billups told reporters. “So, you’ve got to think that we’re going to have some. But 29 points is just too much.”

Because of the Blazers’ lack of bench production, their starters played between 37 and 42 minutes, each. The group battled the Blazers back into the game in the fourth quarter, as the Blazers trailed just 109-104 with 1:40 remaining after Simons finished a layup in transition. But the Blazers did not score another field goal the rest of the way.

Trail Blazers Defensive Approach Doesn’t Hold Up vs. Raptors – Blazer’s Edge

Bait and Switch
Lacking ability to stop plays at the point of attack, Portland is increasingly employing a “sucker them in” approach on defense. They fall back and let the action develop, then attempt to strike at the finish of the play, often bringing over help in the process. For example, they’ll fall back on perimeter screens, encouraging opponents to dribble and roll down the lane, then send a third man into the play to try and block the paint shot from the weak side.

In a way, this is smart. The point-of-attack approach relies on a single defender—often overmatched—and the court is spread, so everyone has to guess where the play will develop. If the Blazers guess wrong or the team adjusts mid-play, the defense fails.

With this approach, the Blazers end up waiting to see where the play will develop, make sure it happens in traffic, and extra defenders know exactly where to go, as they’re helping at the end of the process instead of the beginning or middle.

But here’s the thing. It works because the Blazers are usually quicker than other teams. If the initial defenders can stay in front of their men, slowing down the action just slightly, Portland can adjust to the play faster than the now-committed opponent can change it.

When the Blazers aren’t quicker than the other guys—as happened today against Toronto—late-developing defense becomes almost no defense. The Raptors either shot over retreating Blazers defenders or drove on them and got the attempt up before help could come. Portland didn’t even slow them down half the time. It was a bad matchup for the defensive approach.

Recap: Toronto Raptors defeat Portland Trail Blazers 117-105, bench unit shows out – Raptors HQ

Ahead of the game, Nick Nurse said that he mixed up the bench-heavy units at the start of the second and fourth quarters of Friday’s loss to the New York Knicks to try and get something different going — to either inject a different energy or at least hold the tide — but neither one worked. It’s safe to say the Trent+Bench lineup worked well in this quarter! Afterwards, Nurse said that they’d working on that bench unit in practice, specifically, the zone defense, as they needed something to help them defensively, and avoid the cross-matching that sometimes causes confusion. The bench didn’t play quite as well in the second half, but Nurse was happy with the effort. “It was a risk but they stepped forward,” Nurse said. “We hit the lottery in the first half; it wasn’t so good in the second, but it was 13-5 in 3.5 minutes, not 90 seconds.”

Nurse also noted that they had success with Flynn running the pick-and-roll, because his screeners were actually rolling to the hoop with more consistency.

“When the defense is playing so deep you think you should pop,” Nurse said, “because that’s where the open space is. That’s true in one sense but you can still put pressure on the D if you go down hill. We got a couple dunks and layups but even when we didn’t, it didn’t stop the offense.”

But as good as the bench played in the second, the starters nearly fumbled the ball away before halftime. That 50-34 lead nearly disappeared over the next six minutes as the starters struggled to score — and then an endless stream of whistles and replays mired the game in a slog.

With the score 52-38, Siakam tripped Lillard after Lillard stripped the ball from him on a drive. That led to a video review for a flagrant-1, which it was. On the ensuing Blazers possession, Josh Hart flew in for a dunk that Barnes challenged, and rejected — only to be called for the foul. Which of course led to Nick Nurse challenging the call. And the challenge was successful! Clean block! And yet…

…the officials managed to find another foul on the play to call, a VanVleet reach-in, prior to the block. Hart hit two free throws, and that seemed to change the momentum.

Whether it was the stops in play, afternoon sleepiness, or just a bad run of shots, the starters the proceeded to give almost all of the lead back. Led by Lillard and Nurkic, the Blazers cut the lead to 58-53 at the half.

To say that the starters giving up that big lead the bench built was disappointing is a huge understatement. The team missed nine straight shots in the run, most of them wide open; the bench extended a 7-point lead by 12 and it was somehow only five at halftime!! After all the criticism the bench has received lately, the starters did ‘em dirty by not at least holding serve after that effort.

Thankfully, the starters opened the second half on a much better note, an 11-0 run with two Scottie paint buckets, a Trent free throw and threes from VanVleet and Anunoby. Suddenly down 16, Billups called for time again.

A Siakam three coming back restored the Raptors’ largest lead, 19, at 72-53. The Blazers chipped at it though, once again led by Lillard and Nurkic; Nurkic was a rock on D, stopping drives from VanVleet and Barnes, and Lillard scored 7 points over the next two minutes as the Blazers climbed back to within 12.

With the Raptors leading 80-66, Lillard found himself facing Christian Koloko on a mismatch, although he got the step, Koloko got what looked like another clean block — but was called for another foul, and when he was protested, a technical foul as well. Lillard missed the technical FT, much to the delight of the crowd, and although he hit the two foul shots, Koloko got his revenge the other way with a two handed slam off a PnR with VanVleet.

Koloko had an excellent game — he was a game high +20 on the night — and VanVleet said the rookie was huge for the Raptors. He finished with eight points and four boards, and no blocks — but the Blazers sure know who he is now.

Thad Young then came in for Koloko (who had picked up his fifth foul) and had himself a moment, scoring out of a PnR with Siakam and drawing a charge on the other end; a Young drive coming back the the other way led to a Siakam OReb and two free throws (though he missed one). A couple plays later Thad outhustled everyone for a 50-50 ball and tossed it ahead to Anunoby, who dunked (and once again restored the 19-point lead).

Raptors keep their guard up in home win over Trail Blazers | The Star

“He’s one of the guys in the league that, he can have a game where he has eight points and six assists and he actually controlled the entire game,” Billups said of VanVleet before the Raptors beat Portland 117-105 at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday. “So the numbers don’t mean anything to me. Freddie is just a winner.

“He’s a guy who takes what you give him. He feels the game out; his IQ is incredible. His toughness, his skill set, all those things are really high level. So, he’s a problem. You have to game plan for him, and it’s almost like a chess match when you’re playing against him out there.”

VanVleet didn’t hear those words, but he made them prophetic with a game of rather understated elegance as the Raptors put on one of their most thorough performances of late. His numbers weren’t off the charts — 14 points, seven assists, six rebounds in just 35 minutes — but his impact was immeasurable. He controlled the tempo, did not commit a turnover, steadied things when needed, and drilled two huge catch-and-shoot three-pointers in the fourth quarter to quell a late Portland rally.

And the primal scream VanVleet let loose said everything.

“That was a big swing there. Just competing and in the moment, and trying to find a way to get it done,” VanVleet said.

That kind of big shot — O.G. Anunoby made one, too — has been missing too often this year.

“I think we’re kind of used to that in fourth quarters, those two guys hitting two of those, and it changes the scoreboard,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Changes a lot of things, but it changes the scoreboard most importantly. Those are big baskets, and it kicks your six-point lead to nine … and that’s what we’ve done really well.”

The game was reminiscent of the good Raptors days in many regards.

Nurse made a subtle change in his substitution pattern that energized a backup group — mainly Gary Trent Jr. and four subs — that dominated the first six minutes of the second quarter and held their own well enough to start the final 12 minutes. It was a gamble, and having them play zone defence almost exclusively added to it, but given the lack of bench production for a week, why not try something new.

The combination of Christian Koloko, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn — with Thad Young spelling Koloko when foul trouble hit — was plus-28 and outscored the Blazers’ backups 19-3.

“Took (four starters) out of there, which was a bit of a risk to do it, but we’ve got to take some steps forward to be able to get some rest for those guys, and get some contributions from the others,” Nurse said.

Raptors Get Aggressive Scottie Barnes to Knock Off Blazers – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors haven’t been subtle with their desire for more from Scottie Barnes. His lack of aggression, especially early in games, has been an ongoing topic of discussion this season.

“We gotta make sure that he’s over-aggressive,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Barnes early Sunday afternoon.

Barnes has been far too passive far too often lately. He’s been confounded by the hyper-aggressive drop coverage opposing teams have begun playing against him and it’s taken too long for him to find a groove. In the last three first halves coming into Sunday, Barnes had scored just seven points. It hadn’t been good enough.

Sunday that changed.

Barnes got to work early against the Portland Trail Blazers. He scored Toronto’s second bucket of the game, a 14-footer over the dropping Jusuf Nurkic. When Portland didn’t adjust, he kept at it, using the extra space as a runway to get deep paint position. It was exactly what the Raptors needed, snapping a three-game skid with a 117-105 victory over Portland.

“Felt good early. I’ve been working on it. I wanted to step in there with confidence, be able to take up that space, shoot some, get to the mid-range,” said Barnes. “I felt pretty good going early.”

There were points in which Barnes may have even gone overboard with the aggression, though nobody could really complain. He twice opted to take it up himself, drawing a pair of fouls deep in the paint rather than throwing kick-out passes to Fred VanVleet and O.G. Anunoby who sat wide-open in the corners.

That was until the fourth. After beating Nurkic off the dribble late in the quarter, he came back down on the next possession, put his shoulder into the chest of Portland’s center, and whizzed a pass out to VanVleet for an open three. VanVleet then followed it up moments later with another crucial three before spinning around and yelling toward the celebrating Raptors crowd.

If Barnes is going to side with one extreme the Raptors are more than happy to have him lean aggressive. Save for a few three-point attempts he converted one of, Barnes never stepped too far outside his comfort zone. His buckets almost exclusively came at or near the rim with floaters or close-range jumpers over Nurkic as he finished the night with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting with nine rebounds and four assists.

“Just trying to adapt to the role,” Barnes added. “I have to say, I like it, being able to facilitate the offense, moving it side to side, being able to go downhill, attacking the rim. I like it.”

The starters got it done early for Toronto. Siakam bounced back from a pair of slow games with 13 of his team-high 27 points in the first quarter. He beat Portland with his trademarked spin move early, got into his bag of tricks with a floater in the paint, and nailed a wide-open three-pointer when VanVleet found him in the corner with a beautiful high-arcing pass.

Raptors show signs of life in much-needed win over Portland | Toronto Sun

“Competing man,” VanVleet said of his reaction. “Just trying to get a win and, again, laying it all out there on the line, that was a big swing. I just air-balled one, go down, hit one, do the vertical, get another one, they called a timeout, that was a big swing there.”

It wasn’t just VanVleet feeling good after this one.

Scottie Barnes, who was getting some heat for not looking for his own shot early enough in the game came out aggressively from the jump and finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 makes.

Pascal Siakam, who looked a little out of sorts in Friday’s loss to the Knicks was right back in form with 27 points, six assists and four boards in a more typical Siakam game.

The much maligned, and rightly so, Raptors bench had a great start to the game outscoring Portland’s reserves 12-3 in the opening quarter and while they weren’t as solid in their second stint played mostly against the Trail Blazers starters, they still finished the night outscoring Portland’s bench 23-3.

“They responded well,” VanVleet said of the reserves. “Coach gave them a chance and they responded the way you would like to see, so they have to continue to build on that. We need those guys.

“They pretty much won us the game tonight with that (first) run,” VanVleet said. “And they definitely battled again, in the third and the fourth, Damian (Lillard) got hot for a couple of threes there, but I thought they did an incredible job. Our bench was great tonight. And we’re going to need those guys going forward.”

The get-well theme continued into the three-point shooting where the Raptors shot just under 38% for the night from behind the arc, not a great night, but much better than what they had been doing.

All five Toronto starters meanwhile were in double figures.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was just what the Raptors’ needed.

The team now plays host to the Charlotte Hornets in one of those mini two-game series beginning Tuesday with the second game Thursday.

More of Sunday’s performance would go a long way to digging themselves out of the hole the previous 14 games has landed them.

Raptors & Fred VanVleet Mutually Decided to Wait on Contract Talks – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

Fred VanVleet wanted to clear the air.

He’d seen rumors swirling that he’d turned down a four-year, $114 million contract extension from the Toronto Raptors and wanted to make it clear what wasn’t the case.

“I will never speak on my free agency or contract negotiations, especially between conversations between me and management. So it certainly didn’t come from me,” VanVleet said. “But I was never made a formal offer.”

VanVleet became eligible to sign a contract extension over the summer. The deal maxed out at four years, $114 million due to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibits players from signing extensions more than 120% of their current contract.

“There was never a formal offer made. It was a mutual decision by both sides that the smart thing to do would be to wait it out,” VanVleet continued. “There was no rush given that I can still sign the extension all the way throughout the end of the season. I also have a player option in my contract this summer. We can deal with that at the end of the season. Also [I’m] on the books for next year. So take my word for it.”

VanVleet still remains eligible to sign the extension should he and the team come to an agreement on a deal. Otherwise, he has a player option for $22.8 million for next season. He could also opt out and head into free agency with no restrictions on contract negotiations.

“I’m disappointed that it’s come out. I don’t want it to be a distraction. And I’m not going to be speaking on any contracts or any situations regarding my contract this year,” VanVleet added. “I’m completely focused on his team. My loyalty is to this team and to this franchise and trying to get us back to the level that we’re accustomed to around here. “

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