Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, after a close loss in Washington the night before, the Toronto Raptors looked to be in for a test against the Portland Trail Blazers, who had won 4 straight and 7 of 8 overall.
But Toronto jumped out to a double-digit lead early, and although Portland’s stellar backcourt made enough shots to keep it from turning into a complete laugher, eventually the Blazers threw in the towel and the Raptors won going away.
Nights Like This Let You Glimpse the Potential of the Offense
Shooting 19-of-40 from downtown is an aberration, even for the best teams, and especially for this Raptors team (a 35% shooting team on the year). Yet it shows what a difference it makes when those long bombs are going in.
Nine different Raptors hit threes tonight (including Alfonso McKinnie!). It really does open the floor up. Think back to tonight’s game and think about how many difficult, contested shots the Raptors had to take; they were few and far between. When the opposing defense is forced to adjust and extend to defend the three-point line, it can’t collapse as quickly when the ball gets into the paint; even the dreaded mid-range shots become higher percentage because there’s more space.
Having Fred VanVleet back helps, having a confident Norman Powell back helps (and C.J. Miles will certainly help as well), and having your best player and your centre combine for 8-of-14 from downtown absolutely helps. It won’t be like that every night of course. But if all of these players can remain credible threats, even that’s enough to make a difference.
Also: It’s fun when your team is lights-out from beyond the arc.
Jonas Valanciunas is Just Straight Balling
I don’t know what they’re putting in this guy’s food, but whatever it is, keep feeding him! He had 18-8 and would undoubtedly have had another double-double had the Raptors needed to play their starters in the fourth.
But let’s talk about three-pointers. Jonas shot a career-high 4 triples last night, hitting two of them. He’s now shot 7-of-11 from downtown over his past six games.
That is insane.
What was most telling is that on his first three attempts, Jusuf Nurkic didn’t come out to guard him at all, just turned to the hoop to rebound. By the second half, Nurkic got the memo that JV is a shooter now, so he closed out aggressively, which allowed JV to use his pump fake and to attack. (In one instance he took Nurkic baseline but mistimed his jump and missed the dunk.)
This appears to be turning into a real weapon in his arsenal now.
For the record here are JV’s numbers over that 6-game stretch: 18 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 63.5% FG shooting, 82% FT shooting, 1.3 blocks.
DeMar DeRozan, Also Pretty Good
Other than in the general way we’re all discussing the Raptors’ clutch play, I haven’t written much about DeMar DeRozan lately; his sustained excellence pretty much speaks for itself and his recent player of the month award is proof of that.
But when your “king of the midrange” shoots 10 threes in a game (and hits 6!), he deserves a few words.
That’s the most 3-pointers DeRozan’s ever taken in a game, and ties his most-ever makes. But it wasn’t just the totals; it was the way he hit them, including:
- Off the dribble coming around a screen
- Pull-up in transition
- Pull-up in transition in a 2-for-1 opportunity
It was glorious. He finished with 35 points on 11-of-22 shooting and got to take the fourth quarter off.
Fred VanVleet Came Back, and Brought the Bench Mojo With Him
Can you believe how big a part of this team Fred VanVleet has become? Especially after his slow start to the year?
But he’s made himself a critical cog in the Raptors’ machine, with his steady ball handling, ability to get to the rim, and outside shooting.
Last night he had 16 points, and shot 3-of-5 from downtown. Look at this Houston Rockets-esque shot chart:
More importantly he got the bench back into their normal groove after they looked shaky on Thursday night. With the Raptors up 21 heading into the fourth, Terry Stotts left his star guards in the game for a final push. The Raptors’ bench outscored Portland 16-11 over the next five minutes, and Stotts emptied his bench. Ball game.
The Raps’ outscored Portland’s bench 53-25 overall. Oh, and the Norm watch: He was good again. 5-of-7, 11 points in 19 minutes in relief of C.J. Miles, still resting his sore knee.
The Raptors Reversed the Bad Rebounding Trend
At least for one night they did: +6 on the glass overall, and a 17-4 edge in offensive rebounds (that they turned in to 26 2nd-chance points). Valanciunas led the way with four offensive boards.
With the Raptors leading by double digits almost the entire night there weren’t any critical offensive rebound chances, like the ones they gave up to Minnesota and Washington. And although Portland is a generally a better rebounding team by the numbers, they’re not that big and I don’t feel like they can push the Raptors around. The Raptors should outbound this team...
But still, it was nice to see.
I’m sure I’m not the only Raptors fan wishing they could play the Blazers every night, after two easy wins against them this season. Alas, that’s the last we’ll see of them. The Raptors have one more tune-up game (Sunday afternoon against Memphis) before their big test against Boston on Tuesday.