Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 112-111 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
One — Stunned: The Raptors just keep finding more painful ways to lose. It’s beyond the point of frustration after the Raptors dropped another one-point game in the second night of a back-to-back. This time, the Raptors led the entire way, lost the lead against an onslaught of difficult jumpers from the Blazers, then regained the lead in the final minute, only to lose it again and to have another one of Pascal Siakam’s shots rim out. Objectively, it is a case of miserable luck as the Raptors should have won both games and used it as a springboard for their climb back to .500, but human nature doesn’t work objectively. This is one of those losses that sticks in your gut and invites you to despair.
Two — Gutted: It’s beyond cruel that Siakam will face criticism for yet another missed clutch shot. Similar to the loss against the Warriors, Siakam had a chance to hit the game-winner on the last shot, he used his patented spin move to create the shot, and it just rimmed out. Siakam was undoubtedly the first option this time around, as the Raptors inbounded the ball to Siakam in the post and the plan was for him to attack. Siakam backed off the first double team from Damian Lillard, then used the spin move, took a bump from Robert Covington that wasn’t called, then released a short floater. That exact matchup with Siakam against Covington in the post worked all night, but it just refused to drop in that sequence. This game is beyond cruel.
Poor siakam...blew two game-winning layups on back-to-back nights and on both nights had great games pic.twitter.com/jvxWAPuFqq
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 12, 2021
Three — Wasted: Siakam was Toronto’s best player throughout the game, just as he was against the Warriors, and it was absolutely deserved that he got a chance at redemption. Siakam feasted early on, scoring 12 points and created another 14 points through his five assists. He consistently gave the Raptors an option on the interior, and he continues to make strides with his playmaking as Siakam recorded his first career triple-double after coming up one rebound shy against the Kings. Siakam even made a brilliant cut to get the Raptors ahead with a dunk in the last minute, before bottling up Lillard on the ensuing possession. Siakam started off slow, but has come alive over the last five games. To disparage all his progress and work over that stretch over two missed shots would be cynical, and frankly, stupid.
Four — Chess: The Raptors lost a game to Portland last season in this exact fashion. This time it was C.J. McCollum hitting a contested midrange shot over Fred VanVleet, whereas Carmelo Anthony stuck the dagger on OG Anunoby last season, and the two games followed the exact same script. The Raptors built and held a double-digit lead for most of the game, but the Blazers went to a smallball lineup with five wings on the floor, and the Raptors just couldn’t handle all five shooters at once. Portland scored 36 points in the fourth as Anthony, McCollum, and Lillard all had their way. The Raptors tried, but they just didn’t have enough talent to fight fire with fire.
Five — Brave: Chris Boucher threw himself a party on his 28th birthday. Boucher was hot to start, knocking down two threes and finishing off a gorgeous behind-the-back dime from Siakam, and carried that production throughout the night. Nick Nurse finally started Boucher for the second half, and Boucher continued to deliver with his shot blocking and fearlessness on offense. Boucher drained his career-best fifth three in the fourth to momentarily stop Portland’s run and showed no hesitation in doing so. Boucher has proven to be one of the Raptors’ best five players this season, and although he can succumb to mismatches against bigger players, he is simply offering too much production across the board to play him any less than 30 minutes a night.
Spicy Passsssssss!!! pic.twitter.com/9ToCKYuVhG
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 12, 2021
Six — Benched: Alex Len got another shot at starting, but similar to the game against Sacramento, Len had his minutes slashed. Len was actually quite solid to start, breaking up passes and stopping drives at the rim, but the Blazers torched him to end the second quarter. Nurse also kept Aron Baynes on the sidelines for the consecutive game, and although it is only ten games into the year, it is beyond clear that the Raptors’ front office failed massively in securing adequate replacements for Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Granted, there weren’t many options available once the two veterans moved on, but it is simply untenable to expect the Raptors to win without any credible size in the middle.
Seven — Promising: This was Stanley Johnson’s best and most meaningful game as Raptor. Unlike last season, where Johnson was buried on the bench due to his inability to stick to the script, he is now embracing his role. Nurse is leaning on Johnson for versatility on defense, rebounding, and to make quick and smart decisions on defense. Johnson put it all together in this game, switching between all five positions defensively, while also making good reads to fill in on offense. Johnson set solid screens to get his teammates open, he made a gorgeous cross-court assist to Terence Davis in the corner, and snuck back door for two layups. Nurse is begging for consistency off the bench, and Johnson is delivering.
Eight — Quiet: Fred VanVleet never really imposed himself on this game as much as he needed to. VanVleet deferred to Siakam and rightly so, but the Raptors needed more from him in crunch time. His defense was solid, but not great, as Lillard successfully shed VanVleet on screens to create mismatches. VanVleet had been carrying the heaviest load for the Raptors thus far, so it’s understandable that he would be off, but the Raptors need VanVleet, Siakam, and Kyle Lowry to all be going at once to win, but that has yet to happen this season.
Nine — Bumps: Nurse’s biggest challenge at the moment is finding a consistent rotation to fill the entire 48 minutes without a letdown. The Raptors should have held a double-digit lead heading into halftime, but a 20-8 run by the Blazers kept it as a five-point game. That lineup was plagued by two soft fouls on Siakam, a bone-headed decision by Terence Davis to foul a jump shooter, Len getting burned on defense and failing to box out a much smaller player in Robert Covington which led to two more free throws. In Nurse’s defense, it isn’t easy to find consistency when his players are so up-and-down, but he just needs to settle in with one identity and give them time to gel.
Ten — Aimless: One issue with the Raptors’ crunch time offense is that their sets generally don’t go anywhere. The Raptors faithfully ran their stuff in the fourth as the Blazers spammed pick-and-roll on the other end, swinging the ball from side-to-side, reversing it after getting screeners to create switches, and almost always the result was that the Raptors would end up on the perimeter with a third of the shot clock without ever having threatened the paint. The coaching staff has to find some way to create downhill momentum with a drive to the hoop, or at least establish Siakam down low and try to play from that. All this pitching the ball back and forth goes absolutely nowhere.
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