TORONTO – The Trail Blazers had a lot of things go against them Friday night against the Raptors.
The Blazers left their backup center behind in Boston and their starting center got in almost immediate foul trouble. They didn’t shoot three-point field goals well in the first half and found themselves trailing by 16 points in the third quarter.
But, as has been their habit lately, they just kept their heads down, kept working and continued to battle. But in the end, it was Kawhi Leonard’s 12-foot jump shot with a second and a half to play that gave Toronto a 119-117 win over Portland.
Jusuf Nurkic drew his second foul just 3:11 into the first quarter and sat the rest of the period. Then he played only 2:11 of the second quarter before getting tagged with another one. He was on the floor for just 5:22 of the first half and didn’t take a shot and had only one rebound.
“I was disappointed at how I played in the first half,” he said. “It looked like I couldn’t stay on the floor for a second. They took full advantage of it.
“I hurt my team tonight – which is not good. But I’m proud of how we fought and still had a chance to win the game.
“You can tell we are a really good team when we play our way, as a team. We find a way to compete and stay in a game. That was a great example of how we play.”
Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins filled in admirably for Kanter, who didn’t make the trip north of the border due to his problems with the government in his native country of Turkey. And CJ McCollum kept Portland in the game with his offense until help arrived in the second half.
Down the stretch of the game, Nurkic hit a pair of difficult shots and Damian Lillard scored his team’s final seven points, including three free throws that tied the game with 13.8 seconds to play.
With two timeouts in the bank, the Raptors chose not to use one and pushed the ball up the floor and forced the Blazers to switch a screen and got Lillard on Leonard, with Harkless switching off onto Kyle Lowry.
“Lowry sets the screen and you try to get the smaller guy so you can vault up over and shoot it,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse.
“I knew (Leonard) was going to try to get to his right hand and get to a pull-up,” Lillard said. “I saw him going into the move and I was going to sell out and try to contest it high – going to try to make him make a really, really tough shot but with just a few seconds left I didn’t want him to get me in the air and send him to the line with just a few seconds left.
“The ball hit every part of the rim. Home cooking. It took more time off. We didn’t have any timeouts left and it would have almost been better if it would have gone straight in. Maybe we would have had like three seconds.”
Lillard gave the Raptors credit but was proud of his own squad.
“They really disrupted us defensively,” he said. “They made it hard for us at the offensive end. We just stayed with it. We were physical, defensively – just a great effort. We stuck with it. It came down to one shot and he made a tough shot.”
Portland got a solid game from Jake Layman off the bench and Coach Terry Stotts chose to go with him down the stretch up front with Maurice Harkless.
“I liked Jake on the floor,” Stotts said. “I debated putting Mo or Chief back in. They were both having the same type of game, offensively and defensively.
“I wanted to keep Jake in the game. He was doing some good things out there for us.”
Layman finished with 13 points, Harkless 11 and Aminu 10.
“That’s a good team over there,” Harkless said. “They made it tough on us. But the way we stayed with it showed what type of team we are. It was a rough night most of the night but we kept fighting to where we had a chance to win or take it to overtime.”
The Raptors have lost just six home games all season and are 46-17 overall, having won nine of their last 10.
The Blazers had a five-game win streak snapped but are 4-1 on their seven-game road trip with games at Charlotte (Sunday) and Memphis (Tuesday).