Morrow, Rookies And Connaughton Impress In Preseason Win Versus Raptors

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers got their first preseason victory of their six-game exhibition schedule Thursday night by defeating the Toronto Raptors 106-101 in front of 15,505 at the Moda Center. Portland is now 1-1 in preseason play.

“We played a pretty good game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things defensively. I thought our ball movement win the first half was very good, which led to a lot of good opportunities. Got to look at different combinations. It’s always good to get a win.”

While the win was nice, results in preseason aren’t all that important. That was the case in their loss to the Suns on Tuesday, just as it was in Thursday night’s victory. What matters is how much progress they’re making toward being prepared for the start of the regular season, and in that regard, the Trail Blazers seem to be doing just fine.

After starting Ed Davis and Evan Turner at the forward spots Tuesday versus the Suns, head coach Terry Stotts opted to go with Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu at the three and four alongside Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić. The result was a quicker start, with the home team taking a 13-point lead before a 10-2 run helped the Raptors cut the lead to 27-26 by the end of the quarter.

“I thought we got off to a good start, obviously,” said Stotts. “They’re used to playing with each other, they looked comfortable. I thought Moe did a really good job defensively. I thought our help defense was pretty solid most of the night.”

In the second quarter, Portland might have got some clarity in the race for the 15th rosters spot, with Anthony Morrow going 4-of-5 from three for 12 points. The nine-year veteran guard has always been the favorite to get the 15th and final spot on the regular season roster, especially with Portland short on three-point shooters, so his performance Thursday might have solidified his front-runner status.

“It felt great to get the opportunity,” said Morrow. “I thank God that they reached out to me in the summer time. I knew the offense was pretty much tailor-made for me and the way I play. Dame and CJ, they were looking for me, guys were setting great screens. Just running the floor man. We had a great camp, guys are getting better every single day and that’s all I want to do, take advantage of the opportunities I get.”

Portland would go up by as many as 18 in the third quarter thanks in part to the play of rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan. The two 2017 draftees connected on multiple plays in the third, with Swanigan finding Collins with an array of passes for easy buckets.

“One thing I like about playing Zach and Caleb together is they both come from a college system where they played with a couple bigs and interior passing, so I think they’re both comfortable in that position of getting in the middle of the floor and looking high-low or swinging it to the weakside,” said Stotts. “But Caleb’s shown that passing, he showed that in summer league. That’s kind of what he does.”

And in the fourth, third-year guard Pat Connaughton, who didn’t know for sure whether his contract for this season would be guaranteed until a month before training camp, went 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-4 from three, scoring all 10 of his points in the final 12 minutes.

“I think Pat’s improved every area of his game,” said Stotts. “He’s a more confident, consistent shooter. He’s worked on his ball handling. When he came out of college he was primarily a frontline player and he’s spent a lot of time learning to be a two-guard in this league.”

While the production Portland got from the likes of Swanigan, Collins, Morrow and Connaughton might not have been expected, the effort and output of Lillard, McCollum and Nurkić Thursday night was what we’ve come to expect from the trio. Lillard went for 16 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 26 minutes, McCollum added 15 points, four assists and three steals and Nurkić added 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks in just under 18 minutes.

The Raptors were led by Kyle Lowry, who finished with 23 points, 11 of those coming from the free throw line, six assists and three rebounds in 25 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers begin a three-game preseason road trip starting Sunday in Los Angeles versus the Clippers at Staples Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 pm.