The Toronto Raptors came out of the gate hot, made it exciting at the end, but ultimately came up short against the Blazers tonight, losing 118-113 at the Moda Center.
There’s no question whether the Raptors went for it on Monday, a given when you look at the two full days off coming up. With Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa out with injury, Nick Nurse dialled in his rotation to essentially a playoff preview. Going with the new normal as starters — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam — only one player came off the bench for more than eight minutes (Khem Birch) and all five starters were over 39 minutes.
The result was stretches of brilliance but some disappointment too. The defense that once looked so dialled in and has been ragged since the Cleveland game last week, and that reared its head again. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both feasted on pick and rolls involving Birch tonight, making smart decisions to either connect with shooters off the roll or create their own offense. The two combined for 53 points and were in full form by the end, talking after every made basket, revelling in the cheers, looking the part as superstars.
Portland as a team shot 56.1% and 44.4% from three, including both their stars shooting 50% or better from distance at volume. That’s a tough recipe for any opponent, just given how the Blazers are made up, and the Raptors weren’t any exception.
In fact, this looked like one of the better Raptors games over the last five. Leading the team in points, Anunoby made his first six threes in the first 18 minutes, scoring 23 of his 29 before we’d had a chance to catch our breath. Then, at the end, it was Fred VanVleet — who drilled two threes in surprising situations, one pulling up on the break and the other pulling it back out after an offensive rebound, to keep the game close. VanVleet would finish with 16 points in 40 minutes.
The glue holding it together was Scottie Barnes. Earning the ire of Lillard and McCollum as he took turns guarding them both (and Jusuf Nurkic in the first half, ho hum), Barnes’ defense was one of the bright spots for Toronto. He made some defensive mistakes late that cost the team finishing off its comeback, but the flashes are still good enough to make up for it. If you had him making athletic plays with this much poise coming into his rookie year, you’re a liar.
Barnes would finish with 18 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
Unfortunately, the Raptors just didn’t get enough pop from their bench to win any of those minutes. There wasn’t much runway for error in those transition periods tonight, but Birch’s and Svi Mykhailiuk’s struggles on defense did cost the Raptors, even if they made some good plays on the other end.
After the time off, Toronto’s next game comes against the Utah Jazz on Thursday, as they continue their current road trip.