Blazers Defeat Raptors Thanks To Third Quarter Rather Than In Spite Of It

by Casey Holdahl
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TAMPA -- Two of the main issues that have plagued the Trail Blazers this season are defense in general and third-quarter performances specifically. But for at least one night in Tampa, those areas of weakness ended up being strengths.

After allowing 74 points in the first half, the Trail Blazers held Toronto to 10 points in the third quarter, paving the way for a 122-117 victory in front of 2,021 fans Sunday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

“I was really proud of our defense in the third quarter,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I liked our activity, I like our aggressiveness, we rebounded the ball, they didn’t get a lot of second shots, we limited their transition. The things we talked about at halftime were those type of plays that made the difference in the third quarter.

The Trail Blazers are now 28-18 overall, good for fifth in the Western Conference, and 14-9 on the road this season. With the win, the Trail Blazers have now won three-straight, with all three wins coming on the road, and have swept the season series versus Toronto.

Neither the Trail Blazers nor the Raptors have been renowned for their defense this season -- Portland ranks 29th in defensive efficiency and Toronto is 23rd -- and it showed in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. With both teams shooting well above 50 percent in the first quarter. But with their three-point shot failing them as well -- they went just 2-of-8 from three in the quarter -- and the Raptors going 16-of-26 from the field, Portland scored 32 points and were still outscored by nine in the first quarter.

But Toronto couldn’t stay that hot for long while Portland still had some warming up to do. Behind nine points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, Derrick Jones Jr., who came off the bench Sunday night with Norman Powell getting the start versus his former team, Portland put up 36 points in the second quarter on 54 percent shooting. And while their defense wasn’t stout, it was better in the second than it was in the first, allowing the Trail Blazers to cut Toronto’s lead to 74-68 by the intermission.

The minor improvements on defense that Portland made in the second quarter became major in the third. It took the Raptors nearly three minutes in the second half to put points on the board, and then they would score roughly once a minute for the next three minutes.

Then the bottom fell out for Toronto.

Whether it was Portland’s defense, Toronto simply missing shots or some combination of both, the home team scoring just 10 points on 4-of-22 shooting from the field and 0-of-13 shooting from three in the third quarter, an especially well-timed improvement/stroke of luck after allowing 74 points in the first half.

“I thought, mostly in the first half, they scored 12, 15 points on just loose ball stuff, we weren’t coming up with the extra possessions,” said Stotts. “I thought our matchups were a little bit better in the third quarter, everybody was kind of locked in. Obviously they missed their threes -- I don’t know what they shot from three in the third quarter -- but the three-point shot was a big part of their offense in the first half and they missed a lot of those threes in the third quarter.”

With nothing falling for the Raptors, the Trail Blazers were able to go on a 14-0 run that turned five-point Toronto lead into a seven-point advantage for Portland with little over a minute to play in the quarter. Stanley Johnson got a layup to go with 43 seconds to play in the quarter to end Toronto’s dry spell, but by that point, they had gone nearly six minutes without scoring.

“I think in that third quarter (the defense) was huge because it wasn’t like we was out there making a bunch of shots, the offense was flowing easy for us,” said Damian Lillard. “Usually that’s when we have our best defensive efforts, when the offense is going well and we have more energy, more bounce about us on the defensive end. But tonight it was like, alright, we have up 40 in the first quarter, second quarter was a little bit better, we gotta pick it up defensively. And we just committed to that end of the floor. It wasn’t a special effort on offense, it was what we did defensively.”

Portland eventually outscored the Raptors by 13 in the third to take a 91-84 lead into the fourth. That advantage would grow to as many as 11 points with just under eight minutes to play in regulation, though Toronto managed to chip away at the lead, which they cut to one after a Fred VanVleet three with 2:28 to play.

But rather than looking to Lillard to close the game out on the offensive end, CJ McCollum came up with three huge buckets, including an and-one floater with 44 seconds to play, to answer Toronto’s rally.

“Just trying to get into the lane, make plays,” said McCollum. “I know I can get a midrange shot pretty much any position, so once I got to my spot for the pullup, they became more aggressive. I’m shooting a lot of threes, over 10 threes a game, so it’s harder to get quality three, so I knew I was going to have to play in the paint and around the midrange area and get to the floater and that’s what I did.”

McCollum led the Blazers in scoring with 23 points while also adding seven rebounds, five assistsd, three blocks and two steals in 39 minutes. Lillard shot just 7-of-21 from the field for 22 points but also handed out 11 assists in 38 minutes.

Robert Covington continued his strong play on both ends of the court, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds and also tallying four blocks and three steals in 36 minutes.

“(Covington) has been great,” said McCollum. “He has very active hands, he’s able to get deflections, get steals, blocks, well-timed rebounds, offensive rebounds. Obviously shooting the ball about 50 percent in March. He’s kind of showing you what we expected from him, a guy that can do a little bit of everything.”

Jones Jr. finished with 16 points, Enes Kanter had 10 and Powell, who got into early foul trouble against his former team, went 6-of-9 from the free throw line for nearly half of his 13 points Sunday night.

Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 26 points. As for the former Trail Blazers, Gary Trent Jr. started and finished with six points while Rodney Hood scored 13 points off the bench on 4-of-8 shooting.

Next up, the Trail Blazers have two days off before wrapping up a four-game, Eastern Conference road trip by facing the Pistons Wednesday night in Detroit. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.


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