As the Trail Blazers continued to work on integrating Norman Powell and a healthy Jusuf Nurkic into the lineup, it was Portland’s role players who really stood out in their win over Toronto Sunday.
While playing the Raptors just three days after completing a trade with the franchise, Toronto was locked in early.
Especially from three.
The Raptors scored 41 points in the first quarter alone and it looked like the Blazers could be in for a long night.
But thanks to Robert Covington’s defensive energy and effort coupled in big part with Derrick Jones Jr. quickly transitioning into his role off the bench, Portland defeated Toronto, 122-117.
Ahead of Sunday’s matchup, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts made the decision to run with a three-guard lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell starting in place of Jones Jr.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone,” Coach Stotts said postgame as he discussed how it has been and will continue to be for the foreseeable future while Nurkic and Powell get acclimated.
It’s going to take time, but as Coach Stotts noted, it’s nice to get wins along the way.
Covington wasn’t waiting around for his team to step up the defensive effort after giving up 74 in the first half.
Midway through the third quarter, the Blazers flipped on switch on the defensive end led by the veteran forward.
“I thought our matchups were a little bit better in the third quarter. Everybody was locked in… I liked our activity. I liked our aggressiveness.”
So how was RoCo able to be so active and disrupt the Raptors offense?
He was just doing his job.
Jones Jr. also used his length and energy on that end of the floor.
Even though it was his highlight buckets that really had people talking.
The duo of Covington and Jones Jr. really brought the scoring in the second quarter.
It was Jones Jr., who led the Blazers in scoring in the second period with nine points, while Covington added seven.
Covington credited his continued hot shooting, on “staying locked in” as well as keeping his routine the same.
Having the duo make such a big impact is something Lillard emphasized will be key down the stretch of the season.
“When you think about the length, the athleticism, what they’re capable of doing -- they rebound, they get deflections, they block shots, they contest shots, they read plays, they anticipate things,” Lillard explained.
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. He finished with 16 points, two blocks, and one steal off the bench.
Covington added 13 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four blocks and three steals.
But it was RoCo’s defense that McCollum was talking about postgame.
“He’s been great and I always say, ‘First Team.’ We’ve got to get better as a team defensively, but I think he has a shot at making First Team on defense this year.”