The High 5 is where I give my reaction to the night’s games. This includes a look at the players who made a difference in the outcome, some additional notes and unique details that caught my attention.
The Thumb (Story of the Game)
The hottest ticket in the 6 on Friday night was the Toronto Raptors vs the Portland Trailblazers. The Raptors were playing well at home while the Blazers were riding high on a 5-game winning streak. This was the second of two matchups this year between the two similarly assembled teams. The Trailblazers are built around Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum in the same way Toronto was built around DeRozan and Lowry. The difference is that Toronto was willing to swing for the fences by breaking up their foundation to acquire an All-World talent in Kawhi Leonard, whereas the Trailblazers stood pat with their lineup for another run with their dynamic duo. This was a nationally televised game that lived up to the hype. The Raptors had a comfortable 16-point lead, but these Blazers are resilient, and they chipped away at the deficit with some solid defense and hot shooting. Late in the game, Portland snatched the lead from Toronto which led to an exciting final two minutes of action. Portland and Toronto traded punches with several clutch plays including, Lowry cutting in among the trees for a floater, Nurkic overpowering a desperate Raptors frontcourt for a put back, and a soft Kawhi jumper that hit every part of the rim before falling just before the buzzer. The Raptors battled to the end and sent the home crowd into euphoria with another nail-biting, character building win.
Toronto 119 Portland 117.
The Index (The Leader)
Kyle Lowry is settling into a nice role with the new look Raptors. No longer does Toronto need to call on the mercurial guard for scoring as they have that in spades up and down their roster. Instead, he can thrive in the role as facilitator and look to get his teammates going while taking advantage of lapses in the defense. Lowry picked his spots to attack which resulted in 19 points off 7/13 shooting. He also flirted with a triple double by grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. He had two blocks and a steal to go with his solid offensive production. KLOE has developed some great synergy with Gasol which could be a key relationship going into the playoffs. Kyle is peaking at the right time and is playing his best basketball of the season.
The Middle (The Enemy)
CJ McCollum was an assassin for the Blazers and almost single-handedly took over the game with precision shooting and unguardable drives. It didn’t matter who the Raptors put on CJ, he was going to get his shots off and hit them at a consistent rate. CJ knocked down 12 of his 20 attempts (including 7/11 from three-point range) for 35 points to lead the Blazers. He also secured 4 rebounds, handed out 5 assists and grabbed a steal on his way to a complete game. The Blazers squeezed as much as they could out of their sniper playing him a heavy 40 minutes, but it wasn’t enough to secure his team the win.
The Ring (The X- Factor)
Marc Gasol continues to put in quality performances with each passing game. The chemistry between him and Lowry is palpable as it seems that Gasol excels when playing off intelligent guards. The Big Spaniard had the start tonight to offset Jusuf Nurkic’s imposing frame. Gasol was able to use his savvy experience to bait Nurkic into silly fouls and to an early trip to the bench. Although Marc may be the slowest Raptor by a wide margin, he arguably has the highest basketball IQ on the team. Gasol is excellent at playing the angles and using his size to free up shooters with wide picks and pin downs. I feel like I have been saying this a lot but, this was Gasol’s best game as a Raptor. He scored 19 points on an efficient 9/13 from the field to go with 8 rebounds, 6 assists, two steals and a block.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Danny Green has seen his minutes slightly reduced with the addition of Jeremy Lin, however, in his time on the floor, Green is always money. Danny only scored 11 points, but they came in the form of daggers and at the most optimal times. This was perfectly displayed in the final minute when he converted on a contested corner three off a Kawhi drive to even up the game with only seconds to play. Green is deadly accurate from deep and his shot must be respected. A lesson Portland learned the hard way.
Player of the Game
Kawhi Leonard was brilliant for the Raptors as he and CJ went blow for blow in an old-fashioned shoot out. He exploded for 38 points on 14/22 shooting, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals to lead the Raptors. Leonard looked engaged and integrated in the offence, he was finding his teammates and showing a whole range of emotions, from aggravation to aggression to elation. Kawhi waited until the final frame to pull out the theatrics including a mesmerizing drive where he switched hands mid air for the and-1 and, of course, the heart stopping game winner. Leonard is as good as advertised. Feel free to believe the hype.
- Putting in Work – It was great seeing Fred VanVleet put in work with Raptors Assistant coach Phil Handy before the game. Despite having his thumb wrapped up, Fred was working both hands with cross over dribbles and pull ups. His return will add yet another weapon for Coach Nurse to unleash.
- Handy got Handles – I was impressed by Coach Handy’s dribble and footwork. He is a hands-on instructor that looks like he could still go.
- Errant Elbows – The Blazers took the opportunity to stick the Raptors with elbows and shoulders whenever they fought around screens. I am not sure if this was more than normal, but it seemed excessive, especially when it came to Damian Lillard who despite his size, is one of the toughest guys on the floor.
- The Show – The Raptors put on an excellent night of entertainment. Along with the game, fans were treated to musical performances, Latin heritage (Los Raptors), and of course, OVO festivities.
The Raptors will head to the Motor City on Sunday to take on Coach Dwane Casey and the Detroit Pistons. Toronto will be looking to avenge their heart-breaking buzzer beating loss at the hands of the Pistons earlier this year.