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Five thoughts on last night: Trail Blazers 122, Raptors 117

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Hope you like fake comebacks, because they’ve become this Raptors squad’s specialty. 

Five thoughts recap: Portland Trail Blazers 122, Toronto Raptors 117 Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors kept it close — and even held a lead for long stretches — but ultimately talent won out last night.

Sounds familiar, right? It’s been the script for a whole lot of Raptors games this year, and the Portland Trail Blazers are just the latest opponent to withstand an ultimately futile Raptors comeback.

It’s frustrating to watch, as a fan, especially since it seems like it’s just gonna keep happening. The Raptors have enough talent in their starting group to hang with teams for a while, but not enough to do so for 48 minutes, to come from behind or to win clutch minutes. And since all avenues to improve are now dried up, well, this is who these Raptors are.

It could be a very long 26 games.

But hey: We got to see Norm again!

1. No, You’re Crying

Raptors fandom collectively felt their hearts break like Ralph Wiggum at about 7:08 last night when Norman Powell took the court… and promptly lined up on the wrong side of the floor.

You couldn’t really script a more heartwarming start! Like most Raptors fans, I’m extremely happy for Norm that he gets to finish out this season on a winning team as he heads into what should be a very lucrative free agency.

2. New Guys, Game 2

Gary Trent Jr. had a rough night shooting the ball, but played some aggressive defense all night long — including on Norman Powell, who finished with only three made field goals. Hood, meanwhile, shot the ball well in the first half, but tailed off a bit in the second.

Hood might actually be the more interesting player of the two for the next 25 games. Trent, with his age, potential and likely salary next year, seems like he’ll be a part of the Raptors’ future plans. Hood, though, seemed like nothing more than salary filler, a short-term rental, if not a buyout candidate, with a non-guaranteed contract for 2021-22.

But, with the Raptors shorthanded and lacking bench scoring, Hood might actually have a role here! And it’s a great opportunity for him, as he’s been recovering from an achilles injury, to show his value. And if he plays well? Maybe the Raptors do guarantee the money for next year, as the number (about $11 million) is reasonable for a bench scorer, and gives the Raptors flexibility to move it next year.

3. Big OG

OG Anunoby had another high(er)-usage game with Powell gone, and that usage should only climb higher. He’s showing us a lot more on the offensive end, which included a couple of strong moves right at Josef Nurkic last night. OG really is embracing his strength! (It does continue to work against him sometimes when playing smaller players, as he was called for a questionable offensive foul late in the game against Damian Lillard.)

Anunoby finished with 19 points and 10 board, and although he turned the ball over a lot (the official box score had him at seven, although that seems high), that’s to be expected as he gets used to having the ball more. And that’s exactly what these next two months should be about, trying out new things and getting the future of this team ready to take on more next season and beyond.

4. 41 to 10

Man, how does a team go from scoring 41 points in the first quarter to scoring 10 in the third? 10 points! Maybe I should be used to offensive droughts from the Raptors at this point, but that... is really bad.

Obviously, credit the Trail Blazers’ defense here, as they did a better job preventing the Raptors from probing the paint in the third — but even so, it felt like a lot of setting from the Raptors, who shot 13 three-pointers and only two foul shots in the third. Fred VanVleet in particular had a rough period, missing all six of his shot attempts. Unfortunately, VanVleet had to carry a heavy load last night with Kyle Lowry out, and it showed in the third.

5. No Shot Creation

Playing against the Blazers really drives home the second-biggest personnel gap on the Raptors, beyond the Grand Canyon-sized gap at the centre position — they don’t have enough shot creation. When you see Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Carmelo Anthony (and geez, even Anfernee Simons for a stretch last night!) create their own looks off the dribble, whether it be a stepback three, a midrange pull-up, a floater or a drive right to the rack, it really underscores how little of that we see with Toronto.

Kyle Lowry has his moments, and so does Fred VanVleet, but their size works against them. Pascal Siakam has the creativity, but his handle and finishing ability have been shaky all year. OG Anunoby might get there, one day.

Finding that kind of player isn’t easy, so I’m not holding this one against Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri the way I am the lack of a centre. But it is a gap that needs to be addressed.

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If there’s a silver lining to these fake comebacks, it’s that they’re not at all stressful. Frustrating, sure. But real close games, where you think your team has a legit shot at winning but keeps falling short, those are the ones that get your heart rate up — and then break your heart when the other team snatches victory away.

These games aren’t like that; outside of maybe the Hawks game lately, none of these close games have felt like ones the Raptors had a legitimate shot at winning down the stretch.;

It stinks, sure. But it’s probably healthier for my heart!