When you play the Blazers the expectation is that, if you lose, you’ll lose to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Blazers’ high-scoring, dynamic backcourt. In their game tonight against the Raptors Lillard and McCollum were solid, as they combined for 38 points on 13 of 24 shooting. Still, the Raptors managed to avoid losing to them. Instead they lost to the Trail Blazers’ bench.
While the Raptors starters were able to keep things close, the Blazers would pull away with a 128-122 win off the back of the 58 points scored by their bench, as they had four different bench players score in double digits.
Playing without Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors began the game like a team missing their best rebounder and starting point guard. The absence of Valanciunas was felt on the glass tonight, especially in the first half of this game. Big men like Jusuf Nurkic are why the Raptors have kept their starting five fluid throughout the year, alternating between Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka depending on the matchup in the middle. Ibaka was often effective offensively, finishing with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but was overmatched on the glass against the aptly named “Bosnian Beast”. Nurkic shot poorly, ending just 4-of-15 from the floor, but he hauled in six offensive rebounds, including five in the first half.
The Raptors first half offense was characterized by the disorder that so often crops up when Lowry is off the floor. Players recklessly drove into crowds, coughing the ball up or forcing tough interior shots. Kawhi Leonard looked especially out of sorts, as he finished the first half without a field goal, going 0-for-5. The Raptors went into the half down by 8, as some hot perimeter shooting kept them relatively close despite their otherwise poor play.
The Raptors starters made a strong push in the third, with Kawhi Leonard coming to life, scoring 10 points in the frame. However, the third quarter unfortunately also saw Pascal Siakam take a nasty fall after he was grabbed in mid-air by C.J. McCollum on a foul that would eventually be deemed a flagrant one. Siakam would stay in the game, but after being pulled late in the third he never returned to the contest. Official word is that he’s day-to-day with no damage. Hopefully he can bounce back quickly, as the Raptors are already rather wracked by injuries.
Sources on @TheAthleticNBA @WatchStadium: Raptors' Pascal Siakam is expected to be day-to-day after hard fall on his back tonight in Portland; no damage found in postgame tests. Siakam has emerged as a valuable player for Toronto.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 15, 2018
The Raptors push in the third brought them close, as they piled in 39 points in the quarter, but the Blazers continually had answers of their own, scoring 33 to keep the Raptors from taking back the lead. The momentum seemed to be in Raptors favour, as the quarter ended with Fred VanVleet drilling a three to bring the Raptors within two. After a quarter of pushing, the proverbial boulder was finally at the top of the hill.
By three minutes into the fourth the boulder had not only rolled back to the bottom of the hill, it had continued rolling, and landed in a ditch. The Raptors spent the first half of the fourth surrendering an enormous run to the Blazers bench. Zach Collins kept finding daylight at the basket, Evan Turner drilled shots from the midrange, Nik Stauskas sliced to the rim on cuts, and, two days after the Raptors shut down Steph Curry, his little brother Seth took revenge. While the failures of the Raptors own bench have been often discussed throughout this season, they weren’t necessarily the only culprits here, as the Blazers bench continued to pour it on when the Raptor starters re-entered partway through the frame. The result was a lead that got as big as 16 for the Blazers.
When the Blazers’ starters re-entered, the Raptors began to mount their comeback. Kawhi Leonard was sensational down the stretch, pouring in difficult jumpers and driving fearlessly to the rim to draw contact. Leonard scored just 3 points in the first half, but his attempted late-game heroics would see him end the game with 28.
Keep pushing.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 15, 2018
Plenty of time. pic.twitter.com/SGpdIEmvnc
The Raptor perimeter players all got in on the attempted comeback, with Danny Green, Fred VanVleet and, unexpectedly, C.J. Miles all contributing clutch triples down the stretch. All three of Green, VanVleet and Miles had season-highs in points, Green finished with 19, VanVleet with 21 and Miles with 13.
Ultimately though, after the run the Blazers’ bench provided, it was all too little, too late. The Blazers clung to the lead with trio of threes first from Lillard, then from McCollum, then from Al-Farouq Aminu. Finally, the Raptors blew their last shot at a comeback when they botched a late inbounds play, leading to a five-second count and a turnover. From there the teams traded free throws until the buzzer sounded.
The loss leaves the Raptors at 23-8 on the year and 2-1 on their current road trip. They’ll conclude said road trip on Monday when they head to Denver to take on the Nuggets.