Home has provided a significant boost for the Toronto Raptors (39-27) more often than not this season, resulting in a 22-12 record in front of vocal, sold out crowds at the ACC. Sunday was not one of those nights. The Portland Trail Blazers took the crowd out of the game early and never eased up, outscoring the Raps in each quarter along the way to a comfortable 113-97 victory.
The Raptors’ struggling defence simply had no answer for the Blazers’ effective, team-oriented attack. As a team, Portland doled out 27 assists to just 10 turnovers, allowing them to shoot 52.3% (45-86) from the floor and 44.8% (13-29) from three-point range. LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points on 9-14 shooting, 10 rebounds) and Nicolas Batum (10 points on 3-5 shooting, 12 assists) both produced double-doubles, while Damian Lillard scored 23 points on 10-20 shooting as part of a potent attack that saw each starter hit double digits.
Toronto, led by DeMar DeRozan’s 22 points on 9-18 shooting, was never able to muster much of a rally. They pulled to within eight points thanks to a 6-0 run early in the fourth quarter, but the Blazers promptly reeled off eight points of their own to seal the deal on a game that was never really in doubt.
The new dad
Proud new papa Jonas Valanciunas was back in the lineup, two days after his wife gave borth to a baby boy and he didn’t miss a beat. Or a shot. JV scored 14 points on 7-7 shooting while adding nine rebounds to lead a productive effort on the boards that saw the Raps outrebound the Blazers 42-37.
No answer for Aldridge
Anyone who thinks that the Andrea Bargnani over Aldridge decision when Toronto had the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 was a black-and-white mistake is oversimplifying things. While it certainly looks bad nine years later, the selection of Aldridge at the time would have been redundant with the presence of Chris Bosh and might not have allowed the club to secure their first division title in 2007. All that said, I’m not sure it’s entirely a coincidence that Aldridge has owned the Raptors since then, recording double-doubles in each of his past 10 games against Toronto. This time around, as with many in the past, there wasn’t much that the Raps were able to do against the pending free agent (dream on, Raps fans!), with poor Amir Johnson struggling to a game-worst -22 thanks to his Aldridge assignment.
The Blazers made moving the ball look so easy on Sunday, something that the Raps simply couldn’t match. While Portland recorded almost three assists for every turnover committed, Toronto registered just 20 assists despite turning the ball over 16 times.
It’s gotten to the point of worrying about some fundamental, structural aspects of the Raptors in trying to find answers to the recent struggles. Eric Koreen of the National Post offered up a pretty on-the-nose take on the issues surrounding the Raps right now.
While at least one prominent national basketball voice may have dismissed the Blazers after Wes Matthews’ season-ending Achilles tendon injury, they don’t seem to be slowing down. Arron Afflalo may not be able to perfectly replace Matthews moving forward, but he is certainly a starter-calibre NBA two-guard and keeps their five-man starting unit strong. It doesn’t hurt that the Blazers have gone 8-1 in their past nine games, including four wins in five games with Matthews out.
Urgency seems to be lacking with the Raptors these days, but it certainly isn’t a problem for the Indiana Pacers, whom the Raps visit tonight (7:00pm, TSN). Pushing for one of the last remaining spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Pacers have won 10 of their last 12 games, the inverse of Toronto’s two wins in the past 12.
Prediction: Pacers 98, Raps 91 (record this season: 43-17)