The unstoppable Kawhi Leonard delivered a dagger with three seconds to go until the end of the game between his Raptors and excellent Trail Blazers. His two points were the difference in Toronto’s win over the guests from Oregon, 119-117.
With 1.5 seconds to go, Leonard hit the game-winner, with the ball bouncing on the rim, spending extra few seconds for the home team, and decreasing Blazers’ chances for a reply.
That is what Damian Lillard said after the match, that that dancing on the rim was, in fact, the crucial situation.
“The ball hit every part of the rim,” Lillard said. “That took time off. If it had gone straight in, it almost would have been better.”
Leonard scored 38 points last night. Most of his buckets were after one-on-one situations, but the one who sealed the Blazers’ faith was a product of Nick Nurse’s offensive creativity. The whole point of it is to leave Kawhi on a smaller guard so that he uses his size and jump shot to score.
According to the Raptors coach, his team was going through this action the day before the match.
“We just practiced that exact scenario yesterday,” Nurse said. “It was great. Kyle sets a screen and we try to get the smaller guy so (Kawhi) can just vault up over him and shoot.”
The game itself was very amusing, and the teams exchanged hits throughout the whole time. Toronto had the lead most of the time, but the guests came back in the last period, now allowing for the Raptors to take this one easy.
After a 9-0 run during the middle of the third quarter, the hosts had a 16-point lead, 90-74. After that, Portland made a 20-5 series, coming down to just one point.
The last three and a half minutes were thrilling and not for the ones with a weak heart. Teams were changing in the lead.
Damian Lillard on one side with 11 points during that stretch, and Kawhi on the other with 10, were the key figures in the final moments of the match. It was fantastic to see these two guys compete, each pulling his team giving the best he has.
“It’ s a really good basketball game, I thought two good teams played a very good game… obviously, it’s disappointing to lose the game, but I like the way we competed,” said Blazers Terry Scotts.
CJ McCollum scored a game-high and presented a huge problem for the Raptors. Blazers’ guard dropped 35 points, shooting 7 of 11 from the field, but was inferior when the game was on the line. Lillard had 24 with 8 boards and 6 dimes, while Nurkic only had 10 with 7 rebounds.
Meanwhile, for the home team, besides Kawhi, Kyle Lowry played a good match, posting a double-double with 19 points and 10 assists, hitting some very important shots.
The guy who really stepped up was Marc Gasol, the newcomer from Memphis Grizzlies. The former defensive player of the year, not only stopped Nurkic, but also added 19 points. 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
But what was his most significant contribution on the floor, is the fact that he often made plays for other teammates. Gasol is along Nikola Jokic, the best passer among the big guys in the whole league, which he showed last night.
“I’m comfortable with this. It’s like my safe zone in a way,” Gasol said about filling the role of a big playmaker on the court. “When I’m not comfortable offensively, I know I can always go to be a playmaker.”
5-1 since he went north, WATCH the best of @MarcGasol as a Raptor!
— NBA (@NBA) March 1, 2019
Portland lost after four straight wins on the road, five overall. They have two more games before heading back to their Moda Center, against the Charlotte Hornets this Sunday, and in Tennessee against the Grizzlies on Tuesday.
Right now they sit and No.4 in the West half a game behind the OKC, and one ahead of Houston Rockets.
Toronto is second in the East, safe at that position. They have a much better record than the third-placed 76ers. Milwaukee is currently out of reach, but the pursuit is still on.
Next game they have will be played at Detroit on Sunday.
Nikola Velickovic is a sports journalist who loves to write and read on all sports. Nikola contributes both news updates and functions as a sports breaking news writer at WagerBop.