• Talk about a moral victory. Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers, though, almost all good vibes emanating from their frantic, and ultimately futile, crunch-time comeback against the Houston Rockets won’t mean much going forward.

    Houston beat Portland 96-94 at Toyota Center on Thursday night, but that score hardly tells the whole story of a game Terry Stotts thought was over with just under four minutes left on the fourth-quarter clock. The Rockets led 94-77 when Stotts gave Georgios Papagiannis his first minutes in a Blazers uniform, flanking the never-used seven-footer with Wade Baldwin, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman and Caleb Swanigan. But that white flag was quickly lowered, with Portland’s reserves scoring 17 unanswered points to tie the score with just 6.1 seconds remaining.

    “There’s a lot of things that can happen in this league; you just never know,” Stotts told NBC Sports after the game. “When I put those guys in, I wasn’t thinking they would make a comeback, I was resting my guys.”

    But four prospective Summer Leaguers and a player perhaps on verge of falling out of the rotation had other ideas. While the Rockets’ role players missed open shot after open shot after the ball was forced from the hands of James Harden with early double-teams, the Blazers’ bench slowly and surely chipped away at a lead that seemed insurmountable.

    Baldwin showed off the handle, explosion and finishing ability that has Portland fans buzzing.

    Layman drained a spinning, fadeaway 18-footer with Portland really threatening.

    And Connaughton, following a pair of missed free throws by Harden, brought the Blazers all the way back with this transition finger roll.

    It was all for naught – at least in terms of winning and losing. Chris Paul got a half step on Baldwin to bank-in a floating eight-footer on the ensuing possession, putting Houston back up by two with .8 seconds left. McCollum, re-inserted for Papagiannis at a timeout after watching his little-known teammates dominate the best team in basketball for nearly four full minutes of action, missed a would-be game-winning triple as time expired, allowing Houston to hang on for a victory it should have already earned.

    Paul and Harden put up typically stellar numbers for the Rockets, combining for 51 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds on 18-of-32 shooting. The MVP frontrunner was notably frustrated by not just the Blazers’ game-long intent on making him give up the ball up early, but also the dogged individual defense of Baldwin. Harden had eight turnovers on Thursday, and at least three of them were due solely to the pressure provided by Baldwin, who scored 14 points, grabbed three rebounds and swiped two steals in a career-high 32 minutes.

    “I just feel I have to be the hungriest person in the NBA to build my brand back up,” the 2016 first-round pick explained after the game. “Defense is my ticket.”

    Baldwin’s standout performance would have been the most significant takeaway for Portland if not for its improbable crunch-time comeback. There just wasn’t much good to come from this game otherwise. McCollum went just 7-of-25 from the field en route to a team-high 16 points, the second consecutive game he’s failed to efficiently carry the load with Damian Lillard sidelined. The Blazers made seven of their 22 attempts from beyond the arc, a continuance of weeks-long shooting struggles that just won’t seem to subside. Even Portland’s improved overall performance in the second half warrants a major caveat; Houston doesn’t miss 14 consecutive 3-point attempts very often.

    Coming into Thursday’s game, absent Lillard, Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis on the road against a team with home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, any level of competitiveness from Portland would have been considered a success. But that line of thinking came under the presumption it would be led by players who will help decide the Blazers’ fate in the playoffs, not those sitting firmly outside the team’s top nine players.

    Baldwin, Connaughton, Layman, Swanigan and Papagiannis deserve immense credit for nearly pulling off one of the season’s most dramatic upsets. Yet, big picture, that stunning turn of events won’t change how they’re perceived by the coaching staff nor upcoming opponents – with the possible exception of Baldwin, whose play on Thursday and last Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies surely has Stotts reconsidering his role.

    Process over results, the adage goes. Thursday’s outcome might be the rare one, though, that doesn’t mean anything meaningful for the Blazers either way.

Fantasy News

  • Fred VanVleet - G - Toronto Raptors

    Fred VanVleet needed stitches to close up a gash under his left eye that he sustained in Sunday's Game 3.

    VanVleet ended up going 1-for-11 from the field in 31 minutes, ending up in a major role with Kyle Lowry fouling out with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. He continues to have a terrible offensive postseason, though he did manage to hang tough on the defensive end for the most part. If FVV can get his shot sorted out it would help the Raptors immensely, but him playing this much is not a desirable outcome no matter what.

    Source: Josh Lewenberg on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard - F - Toronto Raptors

    Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 36 points on 11-of-25 shooting in a game-high 52 minutes of action in a double overtime win over the Bucks in Game 3.

    Leonard scored eight points in the second overtime to finish off the win. The Raptors have now made this a competitive series and have a chance to tie it up at two games in Game 4. Leonard shot 2-of-4 from 3-point territory and added nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block to the box score. He will continue to perform well, but the fate of the Raptors rests on the remainder of the team to continuously provide him with support on both ends of the floor.

  • Pascal Siakam - F - Toronto Raptors

    Pascal Siakam had a solid stat line on Sunday, with 25 points and 11 rebounds on 9-of-18 shooting in 51 minutes of action in a double overtime win over the Bucks in Game 3.

    As expected, Siakam bounced back from his underwhelming Game 2 performance with an absolute gem in Game 3. Siakam is proving that he is a force to be reckoned with in this league as he is not shying away from the game's biggest stage. He added one assist, three steals, one block and three 3-pointers to the stat sheet. The Raptors brought the series within one game and have a chance to even up the series on Tuesday night.

  • Marc Gasol - C - Toronto Raptors

    Marc Gasol put up 16 points with 12 rebounds and five blocks in a Game 3 win over the Bucks in double overtime on Sunday.

    He added seven assists and one steal to the box score in his 45 minutes of action. He shot 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. This was Gasol's first good game of the series and the Raptors won, so it is safe to say that he can be considered an X-factor for them. The Raptors have a chance to even up the series in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

  • Kyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors

    Kyle Lowry put up 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting with four rebounds and five assists before fouling out in the fourth quarter in a Game 3 win over the Bucks on Sunday.

    The Raptors brought the series within one game and Lowry's solid play in regulation helped them pull out the win. Fred VanVleet, who had three points on 1-of-11 shooting, filled in for Lowry in the overtimes and ultimately played well enough for the Raptors to win. Although Lowry receives extensive criticism for his lackluster playoff performances, he is an integral part of the Raptors' team success.

  • Norman Powell - F/G - Toronto Raptors

    Norman Powell put up a playoff-high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 30 minutes of action before fouling out in a 118-112 double overtime win in Game 3 on Sunday.

    There were some rumors prior to the game that Powell would get an increased role for Game 3, and this turned out to be true as he played 30 minutes before the game even reached the first overtime. He thrived in his increased opportunity and was hitting some key shots down the stretch. He added four rebounds, three assists, three 3-pointers and one steal to the box score.

  • Brook Lopez - C - Milwaukee Bucks

    Brook Lopez had a solid performance in Game 3 on Sunday as he put up 16 points and six rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting in a loss to the Raptors in double overtime.

    Lopez has shown up for the Bucks in this series, but he was not able to lead them to a win like he did in Game 1. He added one assist, two steals and three triples to the box score. Lopez has played Marc Gasol very tough in this series, which has forced the Raptors to consider lineup changes. The play of Lopez should not go unnoticed in the overall spectrum of why the Bucks are as good as they are.

  • Andre Iguodala - G/F - Golden State Warriors

    The MRI on Andre Iguodala's left calf came back negative, but the swingman is considered questionable for Monday's Game 4 vs. the Blazers.

    Iguodala headed to the locker room in the first quarter of Game 3 and had the training staff check on it. If he's unable to give it a go for Game 4, the Warriors will have to dig deep into their bench and find some production from the likes of Kevon Looney or Jonas Jerebko.

    Source: ESPN.com

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks

    Giannis Antetokounmpo put up a unique line in Sunday's Game 3 loss to the Raptors in double overtime, with 12 points, 23 rebounds and seven assists.

    The Greek Freak also added one steal, four blocks and eight turnovers before fouling out in the second overtime. He shot just 5-of-16 from the field and 2-of-7 from the line. The fact that the Bucks were able to force this game to two overtimes with Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Eric Bledsoe shooting 11-of-48 combined from the field shows how truly good of a team they are. The Bucks will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Tuesday night.

  • Malcolm Brogdon - G - Milwaukee Bucks

    Malcolm Brogdon scored 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting in 37 minutes of action in a double overtime loss to the Raptors in Game 3 on Sunday.

    The series is now 2-1 in favor of the Bucks, but Game 4 is a huge turning point as the game is Toronto and the Raptors have a chance to tie up the series. Brogdon and George Hill were on the court over Eric Bledsoe and Nikola Mirotic to end the game as they have played consistently well all series long. The dynamic duo off the bench had 44 points in this one and were the two highest scorers on the Bucks.