Just like that, Portland’s winning streak is over. After beating up on subpar competition for five games in a row, the Blazers finally got a true test against one of the elite teams from the Eastern Conference. Things didn't go so well.
The Raptors have two All-Stars in their backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Blazers have one All-Star snub in Damian Lillard and one sympathy invitee to the Skills Challenge in CJ McCollum. And last night, the All-Star backcourt came out looking like the duo that should be honored next weekend. Toronto won in Portland for the first time since 2006.
The only time Portland led all night was when it was 1-0. There were a couple of late pushes to get things close, but the Raptors went from 0-100 real quick.
Early on Lowry and DeRozan looked every part of their All-Star selves, dropping down the first 18 points on the night for Toronto. Dudes were getting to the rim, hitting from deep, and just wreaking havoc on the Portland guards.
Both teams had trouble manning the paint to start. Jonas Valanciunas picked up two quick fouls, followed by two more on Mason Plumlee, followed by two more on Bismack Biyombo. All of that guard penetration was leading to some tight calls inside.
The refs had a disaster of a game on both sides of the ball. They called everything inside early, but later all contact was fair game. There were no hand-checking fouls until there were. Things spiraled out of control, and neither side was happy. Needless to say, when both fan bases have legitimate gripes that they refs were against them, you know there’s a problem. Shoot, Dame got a tech early for complaining on a no-call, and it really takes something egregious to get that dude fired up.
Portland couldn’t quite figure out the flow of things. Maybe it was Moe Harkless in the starting lineup for the injured Noah Vonleh, but Toronto jumped out to a huge early lead. The Raptors went 6-7 from three in the first quarter and exploded for 37 points. The Blazers were playing catch up all night, and it didn’t help that Toronto’s early defense was on point. They attacked the perimeter, switched well, and forced the Blazers into a ton a bad shots. And when those shots missed, the Raptors murdered Portland on the glass.
Dame especially had it rough, going 1-7 from the field in the first half. He racked up assists and was able to contribute elsewhere, but with his outside shot off Toronto’s defense had that much more ammunition to work with. That the Blazers found themselves down just eight at the half felt like a huge win, as they had trailed by as many as sixteen and looked out of sorts and sluggish against the springy Raptors.
Portland kept things close enough for one last big push late. Gerald Henderson provided some nice minutes off the bench. Allen Crabbe dropped down a couple of jumpers. CJ did all of the things you’d expect from a Skills Challenge invitee like, uh, dribble around and stuff. The Blazers were able to cut it to three with just a few minutes gone in the fourth. The crowd came alive. Portland started from the bottom, but now they were here.
But damn, those Raptors just kept on chugging. Kyle Lowry dropped down two of his seven threes on the night, Portland-native Terrence Ross hit a jumper, and Toronto busted out a super quick 10-0 run out of a timeout to balloon the lead back to double-digits. The Blazers just couldn't quite get over that hump.
After such an ugly start, Dame's jumper started falling. The ever-pesky Blazers wouldn’t go away—they cut Toronto’s lead back down to five with just a minute left. They trapped Lowry up top and forced him to take a timeout. On the ensuing inbounds play, Dame stole the pass and pushed it ahead to a streaking McCollum. CJ pulled up along the baseline from ten feet out, precisely in his sweet spot, and with thirty seconds left on the clock had a chance to cut things back to just a one possession game. He left the jumper short.
That was it. Toronto hit their free throws and walked away with a 110-103 victory. Lowry and DeRozan answered every Portland run, and the Blazers simply ran out of time.
On their seven-game home stand, the Blazers beat the five teams under .500 and lost to the two teams over .500. For a team trying to make a playoff push with a brutal February schedule ahead, that might not be good enough.