It took a big comeback, an extra period, strong execution from long range and some questionable officiating for the Toronto Raptors (24-8) to go down to one of the league’s top teams. The Portland Trail Blazers erased a 13-point deficit and needed overtime in order to finally topple the feisty Raptors 102-97 in a defence-oriented affair on Tuesday night.
The Raps held the Blazers to just 40% (38-95) shooting on the night, allowing the home side just 38 first half points. Down the stretch, however, Portland held Toronto to just one made field goal during a 6:30 stretch of the fourth quarter that saw them roll to a 15-6 advantage and tie things up. Amir Johnson ultimately hit a game-tying jumper in the dying seconds to send the game to overtime.
The Raps opened the extra frame with a steal and a Terrence Ross three, but the Blazers quickly responded with three consecutive treys. Toronto attempted to chip away at the deficit, but the Blazers benefited from a clear path foul call and the Raps were denied the same call on a similar play at the other end of the floor. Ultimately, the Raptors pulled to within three points in the waning moments of overtime but a Joel Freeland dunk on a nice dish by Wes Matthews sealed the deal.
Kyle Lowry led Toronto with 25 points, but needed 26 shots to get there. James Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas chipped in 14 points a piece, with Johnson adding 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. On the home side, Damian Lillard poured in 26 points and nine assists, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Against the league’s sixth-most potent offensive attack, the Raptors served up a defensive showcase, particularly in the second quarter. Hounding Lillard and co. into bad shot selection and offensive fouls, the Raps held Portland to just one made field goal over the first 7:10 of the quarter. By that time, Toronto had built up an 11-point cushion despite some shooting struggles of their own. It must have been a refreshing change of pace for Dwane Casey from the club’s recent offence-happy wins, albeit in a losing effort.
In 16 games without DeMar DeRozan, ball sharing and balance have been integral tools that have helped the Raps continue to motor along. On Tuesday, however, there just wasn’t enough scoring help for Lowry. Lou Williams had an off night (1-10 from the floor), Patrick Patterson (two points on 2-4 shooting) couldn’t find his stroke and Greivis Vasquez (13 points on 5-13 shooting) never quite got on track, leaving guys like Johnson and Valanciunas, hardly your top scoring options, to try to fill the vacancy.
How do you know that a brand campaign has gained major traction? When rival teams begin picking up on it.
The Blazers are a solid team filled with self-belief and a terrific balance built around a rising point guard (Lillard), a premier power forward (Aldridge) and a multi-faceted wing (Nicolas Batum). The club I saw on Tuesday, however, was too reliant on the three ball. While it might be an analytics-friendly shot, it can also lead to performances like Portland’s 2-17 effort from the first half that had them completely out of sync. They came back by making 10 of 19 in the second half to make for a palatable 12-36 (33.3%) on the night, but it’s a dangerous shot to lean too heavily on.
The Raps wrap up 2014 with an impressive 58 wins. They now face a stiff test to begin 2015, as they visit the league-leading Golden State Warriors on Friday night (10:30pm, SN)
Prediction: Warriors 106, Raps 98 (record this season: 22-4)