Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 122-117 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
One — Repeat: This game was a microcosm of the entire season. The Raptors were competing, went toe-to-toe with a superior opponent, but they ran into a wicked cold stretch, and tried desperately to catch up but it wasn't enough. That is the most frustrating part of this entire season, because you're always watching with bated breath to see where the Raptors drop the ball. They have enough ability and talent to compete against most opponents, but they can't seem to string together 48 consistent minutes to close out the game. The big picture lesson of the season is that there is a very thin line between winning and losing, and the Raptors have been tripping on that line ever since they touched down in Tampa Bay.
Two — Nasty: The Raptors fell apart in the third quarter where they managed just 10 points while conceding 23 to Portland. Pascal Siakam was strong early and got to the basket but it all fell apart once he subbed out. Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby weren't able to carry the offense, and it didn't help that the entire team fell into a cold streak. The Raptors were 0-for-13 from three in the quarter with Anunoby and VanVleet combining to miss eight, and it took Stanley Johnson of all people to snap them out of it. VanVleet said it came down to dead legs, but also took accountability for not getting his team better shots.
Three — Aggressive: Siakam was determined to attack the Blazers on every trip down and it got him 26 points with 11 trips to the free-throw line. Siakam liked the matchup against Robert Covington, who is a diligent defender that was able to meet the challenge a few times, but Siakam wore him out and got whatever he wanted in the paint. The only time Siakam wasn't able to get downhill was when the Blazers camped out in the lane with one of their bulky centers, which was made possible when Aron Baynes was on the floor. That has to factor into the Raptors' thinking in how they approach signing future centers. Siakam's life becomes so much easier alongside a floor spacing five because one player alone isn't keeping him out of the paint.
Four — Force: There was a lot to like about Anunoby's night. First, the Raptors only ever looked solid when Anunoby was involved in the play defensively, and he took shifts against just about every player on the Blazers. Second, it was great to see Anunoby demand the ball in the post and his general activity around the basket. The Blazers stashed their weaker guards on Anunoby, and it's important for him to be able to punish the mismatch, and it doesn't necessarily have to be through post-ups or isolations. Anunoby scored three putbacks by getting after the offensive glass because he's too big and strong to be boxed out by guards on a regular basis.
Five — Measured: The key for Anunoby is learning to channel his strength in a productive way. As he looks to become more of a focal point of the offense, the onus is on Anunoby to pick his spots. Seven of the Raptors' 12 turnovers were made by Anunoby, and most of his mistakes are avoidable. Anunoby tried to take Nurkic off the dribble on back-to-back plays, which just isn't smart especially when the jumper is available because the big is sagging back. There was another mistake where Anunoby muscled to his spot, but wasn't strong with the ball as he went up and got stripped. Then there was a post-up against Damian Lillard where the defender just flopped, which happens often when guards are on him. These reps are important learning moments for Anunoby, who is already making good strides in his ability to get to create shots at the rim.
Six — Muscle: Chris Boucher is a very capable bench contributor who plays like a starter half the time, but his physical limitations make him a target on defense almost every time down. In order to hide Boucher from Enes Kanter's brute strength, the Raptors had Anunoby or Johnson guarding the center, while Boucher took a wing player, but that's still a mismatch. The Blazers made Kanter a main focal point of the offense for the second unit, and the Raptors just couldn't secure defensive rebounds or keep Kanter out despite sending multiple bodies at the play. Again, this circles back to the main problem all season, which is that the Raptors just have no capable centers and it costs them every single game.
Seven — Intriguing: Rodney Hood gave the Raptors a much-needed spark off the bench, scoring eight points in his first four minutes before finishing with 13 on the night. Hood's play doesn't exactly jump off the page, but he is clearly NBA-caliber, which can't really be said about most of the Raptors' bench players. Hood knocked down open threes, got to the paint a few times, and while he isn't close to being acclimated to the Raptors' system, it's already clear that he is one of the Raptors' best bench pieces. Don't take competence for granted.
Eight — Short: If there is one more glaring weakness on the team, it's that the Raptors don't have a closer to finish games. You can clearly see the difference in how the Blazers operate in crunch time, as compared to the Raptors. Portland had two guards who could get their shots in Lillard and C.J. McCollum, while the Raptors have to still run their offense to create something. The best teams marry the two, combining talent with team play, but having that shot maker is the most important ingredient. The Raptors have clutch play finishers, but not clutch shot creators, and that's an important distinction.
Nine — Odd: It felt so strange to see Norman Powell in a Blazers jersey after playing his whole career with the Raptors. Powell himself even felt the dissonance, as he accidentally lined up on the Raptors' side of the floor to start before realizing his mistake. Powell wasn't at his best and he finished the game with a ripped jersey, but he got the win, and saw plenty of love before and after the game from his former team. Powell's fit with the Blazers figures to be a seamless one, as he will just be asked to hit open shots, attack gaps that form, and get out in transition, all of which he was already prolific in with the Raptors.
Ten — Mean: But there was also a fair bit of friendly back-and-forth with Powell. The Raptors made a point to attack Powell off the dribble, which put him in early foul trouble as the Raptors were fully aware of his defensive shortcomings. Aron Baynes even put Powell on a poster in the second quarter while also swatting him at the rim. Powell had his revenge too as he anticipated a play by his former team, got free for the breakaway dunk, before staring down the Raptors coaching staff. Powell also had the two free throws at the end to ice it.
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