Familiar faces reunite in Tampa as Blazers outlast Raptors 122-117

by Kevin Nesgoda

In the wake of a trade between the two franchises, the Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors met in Tampa, Florida for a matchup full of familiar faces.

Both teams walked away happy after swapping Norman Powell for Rodney Hood and Gary Trent Jr., although the two are in different spots this season. Toronto is currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, while the Blazers sit just above the Western Conference play-in at sixth place.

Powell got his second start in as many appearances, even though Damian Lillard was well enough to return to starting action (after missing the last game against Orlando to rest).

It was Trent who scored from the charity stripe for the first point of the game, but the lead would go back and forth throughout the first quarter.

Rodney Hood, the other Portland departure, rattled off eight points in the first quarter without starting minutes.

Former Oregon Duck Chris Boucher had a strong block on Enes Kanter’s dunk attempt. Boucher always seems to play well against the Blazers.

Damian Lillard set his new season-high for assists in a quarter with nine, but the Blazers trailed by that mark at the end of the first, 41-32. The Raptors hit five threes in that first period.

CJ’s arrant pass was saved by Melo into the hands of Powell, who stepped up for a big three to help Portland keep stride in the second quarter. The Blazers were notching an uncharacteristically-large number of assists in the first half (15 assists on the first 17 made shots), but were still characteristically bad on defense.

Aron Baynes—who torched the Blazers as a Phoenix Sun last season—slammed over RoCo and Powell in the second, but Nurkic answered with a three on the on the other end. Baynes would give Nurk a hard foul in the third quarter, resulting in a flagrant foul and a boost for the Blazers.

A pair of flashy Derrick Jones Jr. layups put the Blazers down one with under two minutes left in the first half, but Rodney Hood’s halftime buzzer beater saw the Raptors up six at the break, 74-68.

Despite being dropped from the starting lineup, Jones Jr. was the only Blazer to join McCollum and Covington as double-figure scorers in the first half.

Dame’s 3-for-12 start from the field was burdening the Blazers, but a 14-0 run would see them take a seven-point lead with 2:37 in the third.

Even while surging into the lead, it felt less like the Blazers taking command and more like Toronto shutting down. The Raptors failed to hit a three all quarter (despite many open ones) while Portland exploited Toronto’s vulnerable painted area.

We know how volatile third quarters can be for the other team, so dominating one felt good. Toronto made only 4/18 total shots in the third (17%), while Portland’s 10/27 (37%) was enough to take the lead back.

With a thin four minutes left and an even thinner two-possession lead, the Blazers got just enough stops to ice the game. It took a while, thanks to a bunch of reviews and fouls and tom foolery, but they got it done.

CJ’s floater slowly rolled around the rim until it dropped in with a minute left, and the next possession would see one bounce around before doing the same.

McCollum’s 10 fourth quarter points gave him 23 for the game, along with seven boards and five assists. He added a block on Van Vleet for good measure at the end.

Ultimately, this is not one to brag too much about for the Blazers. They came in and took care of business against a worse opponent, but it wasn’t pretty. You can’t survive many games when giving up 74 points at halftime, especially in the playoffs.

It’s not the playoffs yet, but these are still valuable games to win. I want to avoid the play-in at all costs, and Stotts surely does too.

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