February 2, 2018, 10:25 pm
Great teams normally beat good ones, but especially less than 24 hours after suffering a loss that should have been a victory. No one should have been surprised, basically, that the Toronto Raptors were ready to play on Friday night. But even those who expected DeMar DeRozan and company to make a statement against the Portland Trail Blazers probably didn’t see a rout of this magnitude coming.
The Raptors beat the Blazers 130-105 at Air Canada Centre, but even that advantage doesn’t do the quality of their performance justice. This was an absolute shellacking from almost the opening tip. DeRozan was downright dominant, getting wherever he wants on the floor and tying his career-high with six made 3-pointers. Toronto shot 19-of-40 from beyond the arc overall, too, outscoring Portland by 30 points from that part of the floor. Damian Lillard wasn’t the cause of that problem, nor any other for the Blazers. He had 32 points and 10 assists, showing off the all-court game that normally makes no lead safe for the opposition.
But on Friday, not even Lillard’s continued excellence or his teammates finally coming around made a difference against Toronto.
The first quarter was a harbinger of things to come for Portland. Lillard was his team’s only source of offense, going 4-of-5 from the field for 12 points. His teammates went a ghastly 2-of-13, leading to an 18-point first quarter. What separates this Portland team from others of recent memory is defense; it’s been able to withstand poor early shooting by limiting the opposition on the other end. Not so on Friday, though, as the Raptors poured in 37 points, four 3-pointers, nine free throws and seven assists in the opening 12 minutes of the game alone.
The Blazers briefly tried to make the game competitive in the second quarter. A 12-0 run, sparked by McCollum suddenly springing to life, cut what was once a 49-20 deficit to just 13 points with four minutes and 50 seconds left before halftime. Yet as they did all game long, the Raptors’ stars had an answer. Kyle Lowry drained a triple on the possession following a timeout by Dwane Casey, then another the next trip down before DeRozan drilled another three of his own. Just like that, Portland was down 63-41, the dent on the scoreboard it had made over the previous few minutes nowhere to be found.
If there’s one silver lining for the Blazers here, it’s that they never quit. They cut a 22-point halftime deficit to 15 on a pair of Lillard free throws with 2:22 left in the third quarter, but Toronto answered with authority yet again, closing the period on a 10-4 run. Conventional wisdom said that Terry Stotts might leave his regulars on the bench for the final stanza, but that wasn’t the case. Even after taking a blow to his left knee, tweaking his right ankle and hobbling the to bench early in the fourth quarter, Lillard was back after the timeout, scooting past Jakob Poeltl for an off-hand layup, his final points of the game. Stotts raised the white flag shortly thereafter, bringing in Connaughton for Lillard and finally dusting off Meyers Leonard with 7:36 left in a 27-point game.
The Raptors clearly wanted to make a statement, and did just that. If you take names off the front and back of uniforms, this team is probably the best in the Eastern Conference, a favorite to end LeBron James‘ run of seven consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Barring several standout individual performances behind Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland just isn’t equipped to beat a team of Toronto’s caliber on the road – whether the defense shows up or not.
Evidence of that reality shouldn’t be surprising, but that doesn’t make it much easier to stomach. What will, though, is if the Blazers get back to their winning ways on Sunday. Unfortunately, they’re playing the Boston Celtics.
- Lillard scored Portland’s first nine points, bringing him within three points of 10,000 for his career. He eventually got there late in the first quarter, becoming the seventh player in franchise history to reach that total. Congrats, Dame!
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) February 3, 2018
- Stotts clearly understood Evan Turner‘s importance to beating the Raptors. The Blazers deviated from their normal rotation by playing Turner all 12 minutes of the first quarter, rather than giving Pat Connaughton his normal early stint. Rather than payoff, though, the switch backfired. Turner was scoreless on three field goal attempts with one turnover and one foul in the first quarter, but worse, allowed DeRozan to find a rhythm he never lost. The Raptors star had 16 points with two 3-pointers and six made free throws in the first quarter, half of which came after he was fouled by Turner beyond the arc. Portland has played well of late, obviously, and it might be too late in the season to dust off Maurice Harkless for meaningful rotation minutes anyway. But Friday night made it more clear than ever, somehow, that the Blazers need help on the wing.
- Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t take his first shot of the game until he connected on a triple with 5:25 left in the game. Any hopes that he could develop into an individual source of offense are long gone, of course, but he also can’t be a complete bystander, watching his teammates play 4-on-5. There weren’t any especially notable instances where Aminu had an open shot that he elected against taking, and the Raptors’ ability to switch 1-through-4 in some lineups indeed limited some of the opportunities he normally gets after setting a screen on the ball. Even so, there isn’t a single player in the league who should play 24 minutes, Aminu’s total when he launched his first shot, without taking a field goal attempt.
- Zach Collins struggled again, the second straight game in which he’s finally looked his age. Toronto has a big, talented, experienced frontcourt, and Pascal Siakam offers athletic dynamism at power forward that even a guy like Collins lacks. There will be some games where his combination of youth and physical immaturity comes back to bite him more than it does in others. This was one of them.