It was a high-scoring contest Sunday in Tampa.
But the Trail Blazers buckled down on defense against the Raptors in the second half.
Robert Covington’s defensive energy and effort was key in Portland defeating Toronto 122-117.
And just when it looked like the Raptors were going to take the lead in the final two minutes, CJ McCollum came up with three-straight buckets, including a crafty, and-one floater with 44.4 seconds remaining in the game. McCollum completed the three-point play to put the Blazers up 118-111.
But the Raptors tightened up their offense and nearly completed the comeback if it weren't for the Blazers knocking down their free throws.
After missing the Blazers previous game, Damian Lillard returned from a left knee contusion.
His playmaking was on full display from the jump.
The Blazers started the game 5-of-8 from the floor with Jusuf Nurkic hitting his first two shots.
As Portland’s defensive struggles continued in the first half, Toronto used its quickness and efficient shooting to take a 74-68 halftime lead.
In the second quarter, the Trail Blazers role players picked up the scoring. Yet, it was not a good night from behind the arc for Portland. The Blazers finished the game shooting just 10-for-34 from three.
Midway through the third quarter, the Blazers’ aggressiveness on defense led to easy offense as Portland took a 91-84 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
It was a big scoring first quarter for the Raptors who shot over 62 percent for the quarter to take a 41-32 lead.
Rodney Hood made a big impact for Toronto while he and Gary Trent Jr. squared off against their former teammates with the trade to Toronto for Norman Powell finalized just three days prior to Sundays' game.
In his second game back since suffering a right wrist fracture on Jan. 14 at home against the Pacers, Nurkic once again saw the floor in five-minutes spurts, but is starting to look more and more like the old Nurkic.
Portland was without Nassir Little (right thumb sprain) and Zach Collins (left ankle stress fracture).
For the Raptors, Kyle Lowry, (foot soreness) was a late scratch. Tornoto was also without DeAndre' Bembry (health and safety protocols), Patrick McCaw (left knee; swelling) and Paul Watson (health and safety protocols).
Jusuf Nurkic looked comfortable on the offensive end, especially with Damian Lillard back in the lineup. Nurkic and Lillard quickly connected on the pick and roll. It was also apparent that Nurkic is looking to once again be the Blazers defensive anchor. With the Blazers up six and 4:04 remaining in the final period, Nurkic blocked Pascal Siakam as he drove the lane. Nurkic then laid out to snag the ball. His effort was key in Portland pulling out the victory.
Lillard used his weapons as the Blazers went with a three-guard lineup to start the game. Portland's All-Star point guard notched nine assists in the first quarter, which was a season-high for assists in a quarter for Lillard. It also matched a career-high in assists for a quarter.
Derrick Jones Jr., in a bench role, provided plenty of buckets along the baseline, while providing plenty of highlights.
DJJ and CJ McCollum led the Blazers in scoring at the break with 11 points apiece. Jones Jr. was an efficient 5-of-6 from the field in the first half. DJJ finished with 16 points off the bench.
And as the Blazers looked to their role players, Robert Covington made an impact on both ends.
Midway through the third quarter, Covington forced the Raptors into broken plays. His pressure on the defensive end seemed to light a fire under the Blazers.
Covington was aggressive all night both offensively and defensively. He also helped the Blazers on the glass. RoCo finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Blazers ended the third quarter on a 16-2 run.
Even without Kyle Lowry, the Blazers struggled to disrupt Toronto’s offense, particularly in the first half.
The Raptors were able to capitalize on open looks, especially from three. Pascal Siakam led the charge. Siakam finished with 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
When the Blazers would nearly force a turnover early in the game, they then found themselves out of rotation on the defensive end. The Raptors seemed to convert more often than not through the first two quarters.
Rodney Hood went on the attack against his former team. Just as he did during TrailBlazers' practice, he took it right at Lillard and McCollum. Hood had an efficient scoring night, finishing with 13 points, while also knocking down a buzzer-beater three at the end of the first half.
OG Anunoby also got it going early. The Raptors starting small forward finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
This just isn’t fair from Derrick Jones Jr.:
The Blazers committed just eight turnovers for the game. On the season, the Raptors force a league-high 16 turnovers per game.
Next up: The Trail Blazers finish their four-game road trip in Detroit Wednesday. The Blazers and Pistons are scheduled to tip-off at 4:00 p.m. PST on NBCSNW, the official network of the Portland Trail Blazers.