The Toronto Raptors dropped a home game to the Portland Trail Blazers in a contest they absolutely should have won. What did we learn from the game?
Looking to steady the ship during a period of turbulence caused by a myriad of injuries to their important players, the Toronto Raptors took on the Portland Trail Blazers in their first home game of 2020. The previous game against the Brooklyn Nets proved to be a fruitful affair, and Nick Nurse would be hoping for more of the same against a Blazers team that had been plagued by injuries of their own.
For most of the game, the Toronto Raptors were firmly in control of proceedings, despite only shooting 36-percent from the field. Even heading into the fourth quarter, the Raptors led by nine points. Their defense on Damian Lillard was stifling, forcing him to play a lot of the game without the ball in his hands, and he only took 11 shots in the game.
Still, the Trail Blazers had contributors all over the court, namely Carmelo Anthony, who had 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field. It was Anthony who would put the cherry on top of the fourth-quarter comeback from the Trail Blazers, knocking down an on-brand midrange jumper with only three seconds left to give Portland the unlikely road win.
The Raptors injury problems were worsened by the loss of Fred VanVleet, which pushed Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into a starting role, but Matt Thomas was present for the first time in 21 games. Predictably, the Raptors offense didn't hum at all times, but there were moments where they looked like they could walk away with the game.
That's what makes this loss so tough to take. The Raptors were cruising at points, but poor execution down the stretch proved to be their undoing, and the Trail Blazers, who now move to a 16-22 record, were more than happy to pick up the pieces.
It hurts, but it must be discussed. What did we learn from the game?
Lillard is the difference
There are mortals, and then there are superstars. After watching Damian Lillard in the second half against the Toronto Raptors, it's easy to see which category he fits in to.
Lillard was the difference-maker for the Portland Trail Blazers as they clawed their way back to victory after trailing for, virtually, the entirety of the game. Outscoring the Raptors 55-43 in the second half, the Trail Blazers, led by Lillard's superb performance, took down the shorthanded home team.
As always, Lillard was at the center of everything good for the Trail Blazers, even if his first-half performance was a little quiet. Overall, Lillard only finished with 20 points, along with four rebounds and nine assists, but 18 of his points tally on the night came in the second half when he really started to heat up.
Lillard is shooting a career-high 9.5 three-pointers per game on a 36-percent clip, and he used all of his deadeye shooting to will the Blazers to victory, shooting 4-of-7 from deep. It would be Carmelo Anthony's job to come up with the game-winner, but only moments before, Lillard tied the game at 99-99 with the deepest of triples -- even if the screen from Hassan Whiteside was a bit of a no-no.
Regardless, Lillard's second-half explosion was worthy of winning any game, and the Portland Trail Blazers were the clear beneficiaries.
Matt Thomas: A welcome presence
The return of Matt Thomas to the Toronto Raptors lineup didn't send shockwaves throughout the NBA world, but having Mr. 99-Percent back on the court for the Raptors is more than a welcome presence.
Right now, it's most definitely needed. The Toronto Raptors injury crisis is unprecedented, and unsurprisingly, it's tainted the efficiency and creativity of their offense. Routinely, the Raptors have been stifled by a lack of creativity and decision making, and that's hurt them. That was no different against the Trail Blazers.
Still, having Matt Thomas back in the lineup is a bonus and opens up the Raptors playbook just a little bit more. When Thomas is hot, he's hot. But, obviously, he's missed the last 21 games and shooters work in rhythm, even if they become unconscious at times -- although, that's what makes them so endearing.
Thomas wasn't in rhythm all night long, he made 2-of-6 from the field, and predictably, both of those makes were three-pointers, but that's exactly what the Toronto Raptors need from him. Their three-point shooting has been pretty abysmal over the last five games, ranking 21st in the NBA. A far cry from their season average of 36-percent, which ranks sixth in the NBA.
While Thomas won't change those numbers all by himself, he'll certainly aide the cause. His second three-pointer was a thing of beauty, running off a Chris Boucher screen to hit a corner three with the smoothest of strokes.
Terence Davis is overlooked
Just a minor concern coming from this game, and it's the lack of significant minutes for Terence Davis. With VanVleet and Norman Powell out of the lineup, you might assume that Davis would be getting a lot of minutes to compensate for their absence.
That was not to be, as Davis clocked in for only eight minutes of action and failed to register a single point in the game. The Raptors opted to run without a true point guard on the court when Lowry was sitting, instead, using a combination of Patrick McCaw and a little bit of Matt Thomas to run the offense.
Even Stanley Johnson got in on the action briefly. While Davis isn't a true point guard by any means, he is a rookie who has shown a lot of composure in his brief stint in the NBA, surely this would have been an ideal setting for him to grab some extra reps.
Instead, Nurse relied more on his wing depth to get the job done and Davis only saw limited action in the second and fourth quarters. It's not the end of the world but considering how important Davis has been to the Raptors, it's a little surprising.
Apparently, Nick Nurse sees it a little different. So that explains that. But still, let him play through the struggles.
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