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Raptors defend their butts off, beat Blazers 99-85

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Toronto rode its defense and a resurgent Kyle Lowry to a win over the Blazers on Monday night.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In a match-up of two top-10 offenses, it was the Toronto Raptors’ suffocating defense that led them past the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

Fourteen minutes and nine seconds represented the difference in the Raptors’ second-straight win on the west coast. Between an Ed Davis bucket with 2:14 left in the first quarter and an Evan Turner put-back with 5.4 seconds to go before the half, the Raptors’ held the Blazers without a single make from the field.

It wasn’t a mere random cold streak against a regular NBA defense, either. Over the span that saw it build a 21-point cushion, Toronto swarmed and scurried against every Blazers pick-and-roll, contested seemingly every corner three and vacuumed the defensive glass against a typically excellent offensive rebounding front court. During that quarter-plus stretch, it seemed as though every Raptor chipped in least a handful of rabid defensive possessions. Others provided more.

Lucas Nogueira, occupying one of the two starting spots vacated by Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) and Serge Ibaka (knee), was defensively dominant in an overt, in-your-face kind of way. Assuming the role of human prophylactic at the rim, Bebe swatted a career-high five shots, contesting countless other in-close Blazer attempts. The 17 points he put up — mostly on gorgeous lobs from Kyle Lowry — were almost irrelevant to the quality of Bebe’s performance. His activity in that second quarter, and later on in a mildly contentious fourth, would have been more than enough for him to climb Dwane Casey’s ladder of trust. You’d have to assume Casey didn’t mind the parade of dunks, though.

OG Anunoby’s role as things got tight was proof that a defense-first mindset will always sit well with Toronto’s coach. OG’s 22 minutes on Monday often featured some disjointed offense. He went just 2-of-8 from the field, and hoisted a few ill-advised triples on a night where his stroke was ice cold.

Anunoby more than compensated for his scoring woes with the kind of switchy, long-limbed and modern defense the Raptors envisioned he’d be capable of when they drafted him. A series of possessions in the fourth saw OG pick up a steal, switch onto and snuff out a Damian Lillard drive (right as Lillard was heating up, mind you), athletically collect an offensive board and second-chance basket, force another Portland turnover in tandem with his gangly-armed brethren Delon Wright, and lastly rip a ball from the grasp of Evan Turner, forcing a jump ball; this is a five-ish minute stretch of play we’re talking about here.

Taking a bit of a backseat to SuperNogueira, Jakob Poeltl tossed his own brand of flawless hedge-and-recover defense into the collection pot, too. As did Pascal Siakam. As did a dogged Lowry. Even a scuffling Norman Powell successfully compartmentalized his offensive issues to offer a pair of blocks and a series of timely deflections and pokes during the Blazers’ second quarter brick-a-thon. (Mercifully, the numbness Powell has recently been feeling with the ball in his hands appeared to dissipate somewhat in the second half as well).

Put all these individual contributions together, and you get numbers like these:

On top of the defensive onslaught, Monday’s win saw Toronto’s best player affirm what a triple-double at Staples Center on Friday hinted at: Lowry is back to form after a troublingly slow start. Under a moderate load of 35 minutes, Lowry posted 19 points, 10 boards and six assists on 6-of-14 shooting and three triples on six tries. Toronto can’t be at its best when Lowry isn’t at his. Against Portland, he was damn close.

The win in Portland was odd. Normally, even in victory, there’s something to nitpick, a nagging flaw in the Raptors’ game plan or a particularly frustrating sequence that will linger in the minds of fans until the next game tips off. Outside of a few doomed Powell drives and a quiet second half from DeMar DeRozan (who still scored 25 on 10-of-20 shooting), this was one of the rare instances in which the Raptors’ pulled off a near-perfect win.

If they’re capable of putting together such a performance down two starters, who’s to say what kind of damage a fully-equipped, defensively locked-in version of this Raptors team can do.

What did you think of the win in Portland?