The Toronto Raptors obviously came out Wednesday night with the intent of not letting Damian Lillard beat them. They defended him full court, denying him the ball, then double-teamed him whenever he got the ball on the pick-and-roll and often triple-teamed him on drives to the basket. He even saw a little box-and-one.
And make no mistake, the Raptors were good at all of it. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and all but took Lillard away from the Blazers.
Lillard has become so accomplished at scoring near the basket, somehow getting his shots up against defenders when it seemed impossible. But the Raptors made it impossible, putting Lillard in jail when he got to the basket – fencing him in with long arms and big bodies.
Lillard ended up with nine points on 2-12 shooting and when the chips were down, in the final stretch of the game, his teammates couldn’t hit big shots when left open and Portland lost 114-106.
“You know, we’re rolling the dice a little bit with these schemes, right?” Toronto Coach Nick Nurse said. “But if you do the work on the primary player first of all, and then you get the rest of the guys to do what they’re supposed to do in their help situations on them, whether it’s blitz or drives or whatever, and make it difficult for them, you’re opening up some other stuff. But we rolled the dice here on these guys and it turned out pretty good.”
And in spite of all the recent defensive problems, Portland didn’t score well enough in this game.
Rodney Hood, Anfernee Simons and CJ McCollum all had reasonable shooting nights but the Trail Blazers shot only 39.6 percent from the field overall and 17-48 from three-point range.
And the offensive standouts in Moda Center were both wearing Toronto uniforms. Pascal Siakam scored 36 with a marvelous combination of inside and outside play and Fred VanVleet did a terrific job of dogging Lillard and scoring 30 at the other end.
The Raptors have had success in their last three games taking Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and now Lillard out of their offensive game.
“The good thing about our game is most of the superstars are pretty unselfish,” VanVleet said, “So we throw two or three guys at the names you just mentioned and we just want to make them pass and make somebody else make the shots. Rodney Hood came in and made some big shots and got hot but overall, we just didn’t want to let Dame Lillard shoot. That’s the best way to guard those guys on not many attempts.”
Siakam was held in check by rookie Nassir Little in the first half but got loose in the lane over the last two quarters. And while Lillard was seeing all sorts of players thrown at him at one end, the Blazers let Siakam back them down in the lane one-on-one and never got to him with any double-teams.
The disturbing trend of the undersized Trail Blazers getting outscored in the paint continued, as Toronto posted a 50-22 edge in paint points.
“They outworked us,” Lillard said. “We gave them second, third and fourth opportunities. We couldn’t score. We needed to score and the game got away from us. It’s the fourth team in a row to come out and deny me fullcourt.”
Is it frustrating that you are seeing all those bodies coming at you on one end and then your team isn’t double-teaming Siakam at the other end?
“Yeah. It’s frustrating, But this is the hand we’re dealt.”