It’s been a weird season for the NBA and for the Raptors. So there was something charming and a little moving to see the recently traded Norman Powell line up on the wrong side of the court for the tip-off in the second game with his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers. Who can blame him for forgetting? He hasn’t left the state of Florida yet and is already playing the Raptors, the only team he’s known in the league, just four days after being traded. It’s OK to be a tad confused.
What wasn’t confused, however, was the outcome of this game, despite yet another strong start from the Raptors. Toronto hung 74 points on the Blazers in the first half, then managed only ten in the third quarter — the lowest total any team has scored against Portland in a quarter this season — on the way to another loss, complete with a fake comeback, 122-117. The defeat drops the Raptors to a rather defunct-looking 18-28, even as their lead trio of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam put up 20, 19, and 26 points — with 18 off the bench from Chris Boucher.
For the first quarter, the questions for the Raptors were: could they match up with Portland’s size — Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter — and could they contain their new three-headed backcourt attack? After a slow start, we had our answer. Toronto could indeed attack the Blazers just as easily as they could go at them. That meant VanVleet finding angles for drives and passes, Anunoby punishing mismatches, andSiakam dragging his former teammate Powell into an and-1 (for his second early foul and a quick trip to the bench). That Toronto saw one of their newest members, Gary Trent Jr., also go to the bench with two fouls was just a coincidence.
It was no coincidence — though perhaps unexpected — when the other new Raptor, Rodney Hood, got going to set the offensive tone in that first frame. Portland obviously goes as far as their offense can take them, and behind some of their all-O, no-D players (Kanter again, Carmelo Anthony), the Raptors had to know they’d have their chances. Easier said than done, but they’d just need to capitalize at an efficient rate. Despite the new situation, Hood was showing what he could do from all over the court — attacking a post-up, draining a three, and more. Losing Norm hurts, but in the short term, it’s good to see the Raptors’ pick-up another functional rotation piece.
Minus Kyle Lowry (out with a sore foot), the Raptors had some trouble in the second quarter keeping their scoring going. Though Siakam got off to a strong start (with 11 points in the first), the second frame began with a lineup anchored by Anunoby — who is clearly still exploring the limits of his game. OG hit two 3s in the second (he went 3-for-3 in the half), and also continued to try muscling his way into the paint against all comers. Once he linked up with Siakam, the Raptors did have the power to deal with the pace and presences of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The latter did his damage with buckets, the former with passes — Dame had ten in the first half. Still the Raptors found themselves up six at the half, thanks to a patented 2-for-1 finished off by, hey now — it was Hood.
To begin the third, we should have seen the signs of trouble brewing for the Raptors. Aron Baynes was once again out there ostensibly to mix it up with Nurkic. To that point, other than missing all his threes, Baynes had been a neutral-ish presence — which is a best-case scenario (and yes, I’m perhaps being kind). He got a vicious dunk and a hook-shot in, but Baynes also had zero rebounds, which feels like it should be impossible. Anyway, in that first minute, Baynes mauled Nurkic, earning himself a flagrant foul. It wasn’t the only thing that happened to fire the Blazers up, but after that their defense snapped into the place. Over the next stretch, Portland would go on a 14-0 run — with Powell giving them their first lead since the opening quarter — to take control of the game. Of course, it helped that Toronto went 0-for-13 from three in that frame while shooting 18 percent from the field. Only Siakam showed much urgency at all (with six points of the team’s ten points), which is just comically not enough to get it done.
The fourth quarter opened with more Blazers action as Anfernee Simons took a turn carving up Toronto, growing their lead to as many as 11 points. As has been the case as of late though, the Raptors still tried to make a game of it. They hung in with a lineup VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, Chris Boucher, and Stanley Johnson, and did what they could to compete. Thanks to some forays to the rim by FVV, and, sure why not, a pair of triples from Johnson, the team made enough shots to hang around — but any push Toronto made could just as easily be erased by some clutch shot-making from the Blazers (McCollum did most of the damage this time).
A late jump-ball between Powell and VanVleet once again gave the Raptors a bit of hope. And then Powell missed two free throws that would have really, really iced the contest. Maybe this was just old muscle memory kicking in for Norm, a relunctance to be the one to bury the Raptors, but it didn’t really matter — especially after he hit his next two. The final seconds were drawn out by some close possession calls (both of which went against the Raptors) but it all amounted to the Raptors’ 11th loss in 12 tries, the dreams of anything but the lottery growing larger by the second. It’s been a weird season, and there’s not much comfort to be found in that.