The Toronto Raptors are getting pretty good at sticking to the script. They once again fell behind early, this time to the Portland Trail Blazers, looking at turns disinterested and discombobulated as the Blazers built a 34-point first-half lead.
And then, of course, the Raptors looked like a complete different team in the second half.
There was no comeback and no victory celebration this time, though. Despite cutting that lead all the way down to four with 90 seconds to go, the Raptors ran out of steam, losing Anfernee Simons on back-to-back possesions. The hot-shooting Simons knocked in threes on both and the game was over.
They were two of Simons’ five threes on the night; he joined two other Blazers, CJ McCollum and Nasir Little, with 19 points.
Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 28 points, including 15 in the fourth, part of a 13-for-20 shooting night. He also snagged eight rebounds and dished five assists. Fred VanVleet continued his streak of games with 3+ three pointers, but he was just 4-for-15 from downtown on the night. He finished with 19.
Trailing by 19 heading into the fourth, the patented Raptors “fake comeback” seemed like a near-certainty. But when the Blazers pushed the lead back to 24 with 8:30 to go, the question then became, at least to me, “how long does Nick Nurse leave his starters out there?”
But — surprise — the starters had other ideas, and — you guessed it — the fake comeback was on. The Raptors outscored the Blazers 30-10 over the next seven minutes, giving everyone in the building watching at home that classic false hope.
Alas, when you only score 34 points in the entire first half, outscoring your opponent 38-28 in the fourth doesn’t usually amount to much. And instead of any extra rest, VanVleet and OG Anunoby both racked up more than 41 minutes, and Siakam and Barnes played 34.
It’s actually almost impressive how disengaged the Raptors were in the first half. Sure, you can come up with plenty of reasons why they weren’t quite themselves — first game back at home in 10 days, the strange silence and cold air of the empty arena, that weird 6:00 p.m. start time — but nothing can excuse that first -half performance. It was 25-4 for Portland before you could take a breath!
Chris Boucher was a lone bright spot early; inserted to wake his teammates up with a burst of energy, he scored eight points in the first quarter. Dalano Banton was thrust into the same role in the second quarter, and he too, played well, but nothing Banton or Boucher or any sub could do would turn things around, as the Raptors lost the first quarter by 18 and the second by 12. They finished the half with 11 made baskets… and 10 turnovers.
Gotta feel a little bit for Dalano Banton. His role is, basically "we're playing horrible, can you go into the game and try and change that?"— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) January 23, 2022
The home side came out with a completely different energy in the third, at least. Down 30, they chipped away to bring the lead down to 23 early, before a Little dunk and a Robert Covington 3-pointer pushed it back to 28, 73-45, with 7:30 to go. But back-to-back three-pointers from Barnes and Anunoby cut it back to 22, then Siakam finally got it down to 20 by patiently backing down, and spinning around, Robert Covington — who cannot, and has never been able to, guard Siakam.
After a corner three from Ben McLemore, Siakam then scored six straight points, including four off of live turnovers forced by backcourt pressure, to cut it 17 — and a Boucher three a minute later cut to 14.
That mini-Siakam run was a harbinger for his fourth quarter play. Trailing by 25, Siakam scored at the rim, forced a turnover, hit 1-of-2 free throws, scored on another layup and then, after a Trent 3-pointer, scored on a push shot in the lane. That was all part of a 12-0 run that cut the lead in half. It’s always exciting, if not always rewarding, to see the extra-long raptors break out the full-court trap, and tonight it forced 12 Blazers turnover s in the second half, which in turn led to 18 Raptors points.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough to overcome that brutal first half.
The Raptors are back in action in the empty Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday, when they take on the Charlotte Hornets.