On Friday night Portland had the difficult task of facing the top team in the league, the Toronto Raptors. But three key things happened, that led to the takedown of the Raptors:
1. After having just three players score in double-figures in Wednesday’s 92-83 loss to Memphis, the Blazers had a total of eight players reach double-digits in their 128-122 win over Toronto.
2. The Trail Blazers’ bench outscored the Raptors’ second unit 58-26. Portland’s reserves are averaging 33.7 points per game, which pegs them at number 22 in the league.
3. All five Trail Blazers' bench players ended the game with a positive Plus-Minus rating on the stats sheet, while all five starters ended in the negative. A rare accomplishment for the bench.
To say Friday’s performance was a big turnaround game for the Blazers’ bench would be an understatement. Perhaps the biggest individual improvement came from Portland's backup center Zach Collins.
Collins got it done on both ends of the floor against Toronto. In his 21 minutes of action, Collins was an efficient 6-of-8, scoring 16 points to go along with four rebounds, one steal and one block.
“Obviously, I wasn’t playing very well for a big stretch of, you know, when we were losing, and I try not to think to much about it… I came into every game with a clear head, confident that I was going to play better and finally tonight things went my way,” Collins said.
Collins was averaging 4.6 points per game in his previous 10 games.
“It was just good to see everyone kind of get back into a rhythm and just finally have fun for once,” Collins said.
Nik Stauskas and Seth Curry each scored 13 points apiece as Portland won its third straight home game and snapped a six-game losing streak to the Raptors.
But, what was it exactly that changed for the bench? Even players were asking that question to each other.
“The first half I kind of turned to Evan and Seth, I asked them what was the difference today and I think it really was just our energy, we were moving the ball well from side to side, we were cutting hard. I think most importantly we were getting stops on the defensive end and kind of run out in transition and not have to call as many plays,” Stauskas said.
The starters recognized just how important the bench was in the win.
“The bench played extremely well. They came out with energy, extended leads for us. We blew the lead in the fourth quarter after they extended the lead. It was a little role reversal,” McCollum said with a smile.
McCollum also went onto praise Collins' performance in particular.
“I thought he was great. I thought he attacked the basket. He gotta couple of dunks, putbacks, tip-ins. Defensively, he was at the rim, contesting everything, you know, he was up in coverage on pick and rolls and showed his versatility,” McCollum said.
The fact that the Trail Blazers were able to get the win, even though all five starters ended the game with a negative plus-minus, proves how much of an impact the bench had on Friday night. All five bench players boasted a positive plus-minus with Collins, Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard all recording a +16.
“It was about time, “ Stauskas said.
“I thought Zach was phenomenal. Zach’s a key to our second unit and when he comes in and he brings that energy to both ends we feed off of that and whether he’s protecting the rim, rebounding, or finishing down on the offensive end. He does a lot of different things for us. It was just really good to see everyone back on track,” Stauskas said.
Collins was also aggressive on the defensive end and was able to stay out of foul trouble, which has become a key for the second year player. Collins finished the game with two personal fouls.
The Blazers’ assist-to-turnover ratio was also stellar on Friday. The Blazers finished with a season-high 29 assists, to just eight turnovers for the game.
“We just did a lot of cutting… We got back to getting stops, that was huge. I thought we moved the ball around. We made them work defensively,” Turner said.
The Blazers’ ball movement was back in full swing and now, as the players said in the locker room, let’s see if this game is a momentum-swinging win.