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Five thoughts on last night: Raptors 114, Trail Blazers 106

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Once again the Raptors were shorthanded — and once again they proved how much fight they have in them, dropping the Blazers in Portland.

Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 114, Portland Trail Blazers 106, Pascal Siakam Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

With 7.5 minutes remaining in last night’s game between the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers, the score was tied at 94. Toronto started the quarter leading by nine, but it seemed like, as they did on Monday, the Raptors might be running out of steam.

And then Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, the guys who looked most gassed on Monday, grabbed the game by the you-know-whats, led the Raptors on a 14-0 run and the team never looked back.

What an effort.

Taking Away the Biggest Threat

For the second game in a row, the Raptors’ defensive gameplan seemed to centre around taking away the opposition’s best player. It’s true that the Blazers were on a back-to-back, and that Damian Lillard has been carrying a heavy load to start this season, but the way Fred VanVleet and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson just erased him from this game — trapping him constantly, above the three-point line, never giving up on screens, forcing him right into bigger players — was sensational.

After holding Kawhi Leonard to 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting (with nine turnovers), the Raptors held Lillard to nine point on 2-for-12 shooting. And they did this missing three excellent defenders! Credit the effort and Nick Nurse’s schemes (the box-and-1 made a brief reappearance!) for this. If it wasn’t for Rodney Hood shooting the lights out (5-for-10 from downtown for 25 points) the Blazers wouldn’t have been in this game at all.

Malcom Miller: Missed Opportunity

Malcolm Miller got the start last night for the injured OG Anunoby, and it was the perfect chance to Miller to show us something — he’s been buried on the bench all year. But on Portland’s opening possession, he heft his feet on a Rodney Hood fake that allowed Hood an open three. Miller then lost a ball off his knee at the other end, and a couple plays later, didn’t get up on Damian Lillard as Lillard came down in transition, and Lillard banged in a three. A few plays after that, Miller bit on another Hood head fake that gave Hood another open look.

Finally, right before he came out, Miller made a solid defensive play, sticking to Lillard like glue and forcing him into a bad shot. But once Miller came out... that was it. He didn’t play again, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started the second half in his place.

This is a huge bummer to me. I want Miller to succeed; he seems like he has all the tools, and the size, to make it in the NBA. But he’s probably not going to get another opportunity like this one.

Terence Davis is the Offense

The Raptors were struggling to score in the second quarter (both Fred VanVeet and Pascal Siakam sat for a 4.5 minute stretch), until Terence Davis decided to put the team on his back. I’m exaggerating slightly, but Davis had eight points in the first six minutes of the second, and the Raptors outscored the Blazers by four in that stretch.

Davis struggled a little bit against Sacramento and New Orleans last week, where he failed to score while picking up seven fouls. But he’s settled in nicely since, scoring 13 and 5 in the two games in Los Angeles, and last night, 15 (a new career high).

What I like most, and we’ve seen this from Davis since summer league, is his aggression. There’s no hesitation, when he sees an opening or a driving lane, and his jump shot looks smooth. It seems like the Raptors have truly unearthed another gem here.

Gotta Close Possessions

The Raptors’ most glaring weakness this season has been securing defensive rebounds, and it looked once again like it was going haunt them last night.

But the team turned in a much better effort on the glass in the second half last night, thanks in large part to the energy and effort of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher, who were both everywhere on the floor. Toronto only gave up three offensive boards after halftime (on 26 Portland misses) after giving up eight (on 32 misses). Meanwhile they made a greater effort on their own glass, pulling in seven offensive rebounds of their own after halftime (two by RHJ on one key play late in the fourth), and ended up outrebounding Portland 50-43 overall.

Portland is a bit small with their injuries to Zach Collins, Josef Nurkic and Pau Gasol, but it’s nice to see that trend reverse, at least for one night.

RHJ... Finishing?!

Perhaps I wrote Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s finishing ability off a little prematurely. I won’t bother to show his shot chart from last night — it’s just a big red blob under the hoop — but Rondae shot 6-for-8 and every single one was at the rim, and every single time he went up strong with the ball.

I think it’s safe to say that coach Nurse has found his eighth man in Hollis-Jefferson. (And his ninth and tenth men too, in Davis and Boucher.) Injuries like those the Raptors have suffered can indeed be a blessing in disguise, when they open up opportunities for others — and those others take advantage. Rondae looks like he fits like a glove; whatever he needed to hear from Nick Nurse’s early disappointment, it seems he’s received the message!

A 3-4-5 rotation featuring OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Hollis-Jefferson and Boucher doesn’t give Toronto’s opponents any breaks on the defensive end. I’m really looking forward to seeing this rotation when everyone gets back healthy.

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After losing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka in New Orleans, I was mentally prepared to see the Raptors lose multiple games in a row — I’ll admit I didn’t see a 2-1 record in the three games since coming. You could even say, I underestimated the heart of a champion... but you won’t, will you? (I certainly won’t do it again!)