It was all about the bench Friday night for the Portland Trail Blazers. Totally.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a winning team get all five reserves into the plus category of plus-minus and all five starters on the minus side. But that’s what the Trail Blazers did.
“Their bench was unbelievable,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse. “They had 58 points or something like that (actually, it was 58). They just put it on us.
“The Blazers played really fast. They were just flipping the ball around and cutting super hard…. They made the better decisions most of the night. They played with a little more speed than we did tonight.”
The bench played just as it had earlier in the year – a five-man unit playing unselfishly, moving the ball and moving their bodies. But that’s the way that group must play. It doesn't feature a superstar or even a star.
“It’s a matter of playing the right way,” said Seth Curry, who hit five of eight shots, three of five from long distance, had two assists, two steals and no turnovers.
Coach Terry Stotts platooned his two units for most of the game, not by design, he said, but just as it happened circumstantially,
Curry said that helps.
“It does,” he said. “We play a different style than the starting unit. We play at a faster pace. It’s a lot of fun when we have those five guys out there with everybody touching the ball.
“We have Nik, Evan and me who can put the ball on the floor and make plays.
The starters, with two guards who dominate the ball, attempt to get ball and player movement, too, but it’s more difficult with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum having the ball so often.
“Damian and CJ have played that style for a long time and they do it well,” Curry said. “The energy of the second group is a lot different.”
It was easier to make plays Friday -- the lane was wide open for the second unit because the Raptors chose to stick hard to Meyers Leonard on the perimeter.
“I couldn’t get a look at a three,” Leonard said.
But he got a lot of room for the others to make hard cuts and find openings to the basket.
“That’s what Meyers brings even when he’s not making shots,” Curry said. “He’s a threat out there. That’s the same thing with me and Nik.
“It gets other guys great shots.”
The Blazer bench had 12 assists and only three turnovers. As a team, Portland had a great night with the ball – turning it over just eight times to go with 29 assists.
“Play faster, move the ball and everybody has the opportunity to make plays,” Curry said of the reserves. “That’s how we played in training camp and how we played to start the season.
“We got back to it tonight and we’ve got to keep it going.”
Of course, it would not be fair to omit the fact that Toronto, the team with the best record in the league, was forced by injuries to play without starters Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry.
But the Blazers, who had lost 10 of their last 15, were happy to take this one any way they could get it.
And especially when the often-maligned bench was very much responsible for it.