Call it a championship shine if you want, but the Raptors continue to prove that their ability to outsmart opponents can pay off, even when you’re down in numbers. Without four of their rotation players coming into tonight’s game against Portland, Toronto dialled in an excellent offensive game plan in the second half to beat the Blazers, 114-106.
Since losing Kyle Lowry to injury, Toronto’s offensive creation has mostly rested on the shoulders of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. Tonight, they answered the call by combining for 66 points — 36 for Siakam, 30 for VanVleet — to out-pace the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum by a cool 40 points. For the second straight game, the Raptors also bottled up their opposition’s best player on the other end, as Lillard scored just nine points on 12 shots, turning the ball over twice and marking a -13.
The play-calling in the second half is what stood out to me, though, as Toronto simplified their plan and put the ball in the hands of their two best players, whether in isolation or in pick and roll sets.
For Siakam’s part, it was Mario Hezonja and Nassir Little who earned most of the assignment minutes, and it was apparent by the end of the second quarter that neither would be that effective at stopping him. It didn’t hurt that Pascal had all the shots going by the end of the game, draining a pull-up three with 7:15 left that put the visitors ahead for good. He ended up shooting 15-for-28, adding six rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a block.
For VanVleet, it was a maestro performance from the point guard spot. Besides the 30 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and two steals, VanVleet was an expert at navigating space with his dribble and pacing the game effectively. Late, it was clear that the Raptors could score on most possessions if they were willing to be patient and find the right matchup. VanVleet was the guy setting it all up, making sure everything happened at the right time.
Off the bench, the Raptors also got good games from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Terence Davis. Hollis-Jefferson, who came off the bench initially with Malcolm Miller starting, quickly cemented himself as the go-to small forward off the bench. Starting the second half, Rondae continued to show what he has been this whole road trip, a quirky energy and ability to find open space around the rim. With 16 points and 11 rebounds, he was more effective finishing tonight than he was on Monday against the Clippers.
Davis, meanwhile, had 15 points and was a +19, making three important three-pointers and pulling down six rebounds.
With Lillard all but shut down, the Blazers hung in with a great shooting game from Rodney Hood, who drained five threes and scored 25. CJ McCollum got going late as well, scoring 19, but a well-executed timeout by Nick Nurse stopped McCollum’s individual 5-0 run and allowed the Raptors a response — keyed off by that aforementioned Siakam three.
Off the bench for Portland, Anfernee Simons had 17 points (6-for-11) and Mario Hezonja had ten (2-for-5).
In the end, the Raptors’ confidence regardless of who’s out there on the floor continues to shine against opponents still trying to find their way.
I’m sure part of it is a championship swagger. That doesn’t come without energized players, though, and great coaching on the part of Nick Nurse. This isn’t a team coming in with rings and malaise. There’s a lot of drive in this team, and right now, they’re fun to watch.