Blazers roll to big lead, hold on for win over Raptors
Reflections on the Trail Blazers' 106-101 preseason victory over Toronto Thursday night at Moda Center …
• As was the case in Tuesday night's 114-112 loss to Phoenix, Portland squandered a huge third-quarter lead. This time, though, the Blazers hung on to win.
Portland was in front 97-72 early in the fourth quarter. With reserves on the floor for both teams, the Raptors outscored the Blazers 29-9 the rest of the way.
"We played a pretty good game except for the last five minutes," Portland coach Terry Stotts said.
• Anthony Morrow made a case for earning the Blazers' 15th and final roster spot, making the most of his eight second-quarter minutes.
The 6-5 guard — signed to a make-good contract six days before training camp started — scored 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting, all from 3-point range. When the nine-year NBA veteran entered the game with 9:58 left in the second quarter, Portland led 32-28. When he departed, the Blazers were on top 53-42.
"You know from being around him, he's a professional," point guard Damian Lillard said. "When he came, we knew this guy was a shooter. He makes shots in practice every day. When he shoots it, you think it's going in."
Morrow had played only five minutes against Phoenix and didn't take a shot.
"He came out there tonight, whenever he got his hands on the ball, it was going up, and it was going in," Lillard said. "That's a skill that's always going to be needed. It shows why he's still around."
Lillard said he remembers when he was in high school in Oakland, watching Morrow play with Golden State as an undrafted rookie in 2009-09. Morrow averaged 10.1 points and led the NBA in 3-point percentage at .467 that season.
"He didn't have to say that," said Morrow, 32. "Makes me feel old."
Morrow is a career .417 shooting from 3-point range, but dipped to .308 last season with Oklahoma City and Chicago and was out of a job after the season. His agent got a call from the Blazers with a tryout offer less than a week before training camp.
"It was a scramble," Morrow says. "I have family, four kids. It was cool, though. It's good to be in an organization with good culture, a great city, great people around who care about you and take care of you.
"The offense is pretty much tailor-made for me and the way I play. 'Dame' and CJ (McCollum), they're looking for me. Guys set great screens. I just want to take advantage of the opportunities I get."
The 3-point shot, Morrow said, "is what I do. That's what I've been doing for the last nine years. It's something they said they needed."
The Blazers have 14 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Did Morrow's performance do anything for his chances to get the final roster spot?
"It helps," Stotts said. "We'll talk about the 15th spot in a week and a half, or two weeks."
• Power forward Caleb Swanigan had another productive game off the bench with six points, eight rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes. The 6-9, 250-pound Swanigan twice set up fellow rookie Zach Collins for dunks in the first half — first with a bounce pass from the foul line, then after a baseline drive.
"Zach and Caleb both come from a college system where they played with a couple of bigs (and have experience with) interior passing," Stotts said. "They're comfortable with looking high/low, or swinging it to the weak side. Caleb has shown that passing (ability). He showed in in summer league. That's kind of what he does."
That, and mix it up. Swanigan exchanged elbows with the likes of Toronto's Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka and drew a technical foul from referee Ronnie Garretson in the third quarter.
"Right after he got it, I told him, 'We ain't going to take nothing,'" Lillard said. "We have to establish that. Since I've been here, we've been a team where … we're not mean. We play hard, but we ain't going to cause no trouble.
"(Swanigan) has an enforcer-type mentality. I told him, 'I'm not mad at you. Be who you are. Have the type of attitude where, we're not taking nothing from nobody.' He was playing against Ibaka and Valanciunas, guys who are established in this league, and he was down there mixing it up with them. That's what you want to see."
Yes, but you don't want to see meaningless technical fouls at inopportune times, either. Let's not forget the life and times of Rasheed "Mr. T" Wallace.
• The Blazers might well have lost this game without Pat Connaughton, who steadied the young group that closed out the game. The third-year pro had 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting, including a 3-pointer that pretty much sealed the deal for a 104-90 lead with 3:28 to play.
Earlier in the period, Connaughton had the play of the night, splitting a double-team with a behind-the-back dribble, then finishing with a floater as the shot clock expired.
"Pat has improved in every area of his game," Stotts said of the 6-5 former Notre Dame standout. "He's more confident, a more consistent shooter, He has worked on ballhandlng. He was a forward in college and has spent a lot of time learning to be a two-guard in this league."
• Stotts always begins training camp talking about an emphasis on defense. In their first two games, the starting group and key reserves have done a solid job at the defensive end. Toronto shot .400 from the field, taking a whopping 44 3-point field-goal attempts and making only 13.
"We've shown we're paying attention to the defensive end of the floor, physically and mentally," said Lillard, who led Portland with 16 points and eight assists in 26 minutes.
"We closed out, we contested shots, we played physical. We had a presence. We executed our coverages well. Our communication was pretty good.
"Now we just have to minimize the breakdowns. Seemed like every time we had a breakdown, (the Raptors) took advantage of it."
Stotts said the Blazers did a nice job with their help defense throughout the game, focusing on Toronto guard Kyle Lowry.
"We tried trapping and showing on pick-and-rolls with Lowry," he said. "It was something we hadn't done or practiced, so we used this game to try that out. We got better at it as the game went along."
NOTES: Lowry scored 23 points in 25 minutes to lead Toronto, which rested starting guard DeMar DeRozan and reserve forward CJ Miles. … Portland started Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless at the forward positions after going with Ed Davis and Evan Turner in the opener. … Portland center Jusuf Nurkic finished with 12 points and six rebounds, making 6 of 14 shots. He sank three of four mid-range jumpers but had trouble finishing around the basket. … Another spotlight play: Toronto guard Norman Powell tried to dunk in traffic on a drive, and Nurkic swatted it away … It was a game of runs. The Blazers got a 20-7 jump on the Raptors, hitting nine of their first 15 shots. Toronto tied it at 26-26 with a 19-6 run, but an 18-5 Portland tear made it 44-31. … With the Raptors on a make-good contract is forward Kyle Wiltjer out of Jesuit High. The 6-10 Wiltjer, who finished his college career at Gonzaga, played the entire fourth quarter and scored 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting — all from 3-point range. "Kyle is one of those guys who can roll out of bed and shoot the ball," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "We had a scrimmage in Victoria (British Columbia), and some guy in the stands was yelling, 'Dirk!' (Nowitzki) at him. He's trying to make our team. I'm pulling for him."
Stotts said the idea behind Turner running the point at times "is about (Lillard) not always having the ball. Dame is best when the ball is in his hands, but it is taxing to bring it up and run the show every time and initiate the offense. He has worked on playing without the ball. CJ has gotten some minutes at point guard but is used to playing off the ball. Damian hasn't had the opportunity to do that as much. It's not like we'll force-feed that whole concept; it's just something we want to take advantage of." … Stotts said the return of most of his regulars from last season can lead to complacency. "You can't get too comfortable with it and assume things will pick up where they left off," he said. "Last year was a great example of that for us. I don't want to fall into that trap again. We made a great run at the end of the season, but you have to go out and do it again, regardless of how many players are coming back."
Toronto lost starting small forward DeMarre Carroll and key reserves Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson from last year's team that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals. Its biggest acquisition was Miles, who will come off the bench for the Raptors in his 13th NBA season. "We have the same core we had last year, so the continuity is there," Casey said. "We'll tweak some things offensively that we've been working on in training camp. We're changing the style of play we used last year. We're going to have other people ready to handle the ball and make plays other than Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar. It's going to be really good for us in the big picture."