Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 101-99 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
One — Unfortunate: The Raptors snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Toronto led for all but 17 seconds — most of it by double digits — but made too many crucial mistakes in the fourth quarter. An uncalled moving screen from Hassan Whiteside bought Damian Lillard just enough space to tie the game from 35-feet out, and then Carmelo Anthony hit the final dagger with a signature midrange jumper over OG Anunoby. It was a cruel end to an otherwise comfortable game.
Two — Mistake: To be clear, the Raptors should have never let it get that close, but Pat McCaw made a crucial error in crunch time. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson won an improbable jumpball against Whiteside, the play was supposed to reset to Kyle Lowry. Except, when Lowry emerged through a maze of defenders to collect the ball, McCaw bizarrely chose to throw a bounce pass in tight traffic to Lowry in the corner, and it resulted in an unfortunate turnover. That gave the final possession to the Blazers, and it allowed Anthony to hit the game-winner.
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Three — Gone: With the loss, the Raptors no longer have a perfect record against under .500 teams. That record stood as a testament to the Raptors’ ability to out-execute the bottom feeders of the league, and quite frankly, it was true for most of this game. But eventually, injuries did catch up to the Raptors, who are close to .500 since the string of injuries. They can still tread water with a soft schedule coming up — they only play two playoff teams (Oklahoma City and Philadelphia) in January — but they just need more healthy bodies. Lowry was the only creator on the floor in crunch time, and closing games has never quite been his role.
Four — Undermanned: Fred VanVleet is the latest player to be sidelined. VanVleet aggravated his hamstring in the dying moments of the Raptors’ win over Brooklyn last weekend, and Nick Nurse warned that it could be “a little while” in regards to his timeline for return. VanVleet had soldered through a back injury, and a jammed finger to boot, and his absence puts an even bigger load on Lowry’s shoulders. The Raptors had to play McCaw for extended stretches as a backup point guard, and that’s simply not going to work against competent teams.
Five — Benched: With VanVleet out, the expectation was that Terence Davis would see an uptick in playing time, but he only saw eight minutes that were largely invisible. Nurse piled on in the post-game interview, as he said that Davis actually got “five too many” since the rookie was mostly making mistakes. In the few moments that Davis did play, he operated off the ball as a shooting guard but he failed to receive the ball in meaningful moments. Still, with the lineup being so shorthanded, the Raptors will need Davis to step up in VanVleet’s stead, as McCaw is just not the answer.
Six — Soon: There is at least some hope on the injury front. Norman Powell was upgraded to questionable, and there’s a chance that he suits up for the Spurs game this Sunday. Meanwhile, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam both took part in pre-game warm-ups, although there is still no timeline for their return. Siakam was noticeably rusty, but Gasol shot the lights out, which makes sense given that Siakam figures to be out the longest of the three. Powell’s return should knock McCaw back to the bench, and give the Raptors another much-needed scorer on the wing.
Seven — Invisible: There is an opportunity here for OG Anunoby to shine in a bigger role, but the opposite has happened. It’s abundantly clear that Anunoby just isn’t ready as a scorer, and expecting him to consistently create offense is unrealistic. Anunoby will be better once he has more playmakers on the floor — Siakam is great at drawing double teams for Anunoby to catch-and-shoot, while Anunoby was also a preferred target for Gasol’s passes — but right now he is neutral at best on offense. The hope is that Anunoby would assert himself defensively, but he’s merely been good on that end.
Eight — Emergence: Oshae Brissett played much of the fourth quarter. Offensively, he is limited to corner threes and transition plays, but Brissett did his part with five points down the stretch. Where he earned the right to close was on defense, where Brissett stayed glued to C.J. McCollum and limited him to 10 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Brissett has incredibly quick feet and he doesn’t reach, and it was eye-opening to see him stay in front of McCollum at every step.
Nine — Solid: This was also Stanley Johnson’s best outing of the season. Johnson volunteered to play in the G-League on Monday so that he could shake off the rust after missing more than a month, and he was rewarded with playing time. Johnson only shot 1-of-7, but he was making solid decisions for the most part and was impactful on defense. It’s hardly a great game by any means, but it’s a start.
Ten — Development: Nurse played 10 minutes with essentially a G-League lineup, and it was actually working. Nurse opened both the second and the fourth quarters with McCaw running the point, Matt Thomas as a shooting guard, Johnson at three, Brissett at four, and Chris Boucher as the center. Boucher was actually crucial in the fourth quarter, as he hit two threes, converted a tough layup around Whiteside, and took it coast-to-coast for a layup which momentarily kept the Blazers at bay. Realistically, you’re not going to win many games with a G-League caliber lineup, but the fact that the Raptors somehow won those minutes is a testament to their development program.
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