The Toronto Raptors coughed up a painful one Tuesday night in front of their home crowd.
The reigning NBA champs led almost all night before allowing the Portland Trailblazers to steal a sneaky 101-99 victory.
Carmelo Anthony scored 28 points, including the game-winning bucket with four seconds left to cap off Portland’s comeback and silence the fans inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. Damian Lillard powered up in the second half and gutted out a 20-point night to help fuel the Blazers.
Kyle Lowry had 24 points and 10 assists in the loss by a Raptors squad that continues to manage a revolving door of injuries. Serge Ibaka recorded a double-double for a sixth consecutive game with his 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The Raps shot just 36 percent on the night. They have a 3-5 record in their last eight games. The champs have now been without Pascal Siakam (groin), Norman Powell (shoulder) and Marc Gasol (hamstring) for ten games and have a 5-5 record in that time.
The Raps got three-point specialist Matt Thomas back on Tuesday, but it was one step forward and one step back for the reigning NBA champs. They were without Fred VanVleet as the feisty guard sits for an unspecified amount of time dealing with a strained right hamstring.
“Next man up. We’ve got great guys, young kids going out there and trying to prove their worth,” said Lowry after the loss by his short-handed squad. “We’ve just got to continue to get better. Hopefully these guys get healthy and get out there. We’ve just got to play with what we have.”
The Raps missed their missing starters sorely in Tuesday’s late-going, especially hot-shooting Siakam. Covering VanVleet’s heavy minutes often proves tricky for the Raptors too, just as it was when he missed five games in December with an injured knee. Coach Nick Nurse turned to his seventh starting lineup of the season. He trotted out Lowry, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Serge Ibaka at tip-off.
Thomas had eight points in his return to action after a 21-game layoff with a left middle finger injury. The undrafted rookie sharpshooter was the first man off Toronto’s bench Tuesday night. After airballing his first shot of the night horribly, Thomas made two of his six shots, and added six rebounds in 15 minutes.
Lowry quarterbacked the Raps with 17 first-half points – including a trio of threes. Ibaka nearly had a double-double before half-time, sidestepping around Portland’s Hassan Whiteside to score 11 first-half points and snag eight rebounds. Perhaps more importantly, the Raps had held the four-time NBA All Star Lillard to just two points in the half on 0-of-3 shooting in the opening half.
Without VanVleet, the ball-handling fell to others when Lowry needed a breather. McCaw stayed in the game to handle the ball and anchor an eclectic bench unit that included, Thomas, Brissett, Chris Boucher and little-used Stanley Johnson in some significant chunks of the game. Rookie Terence Davis filled some of those minutes when McCaw was off the floor.
Toronto-raised Brissett had another solid outing Tuesday, contributing 12 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes – some with the Raps starters. Montreal youngster Chris Boucher was also solid for the Raps -- a 12-point, nine-rebound night that also included three blocked shots.
Just inside the second half, the Raps were shooting at will on the Blazers. McCaw breezed in for a ridiculously easy layup. Anunoby nailed back-to-back wide-open threes. The game seemed to be easily in hand. The Blazers had lost six of their last seven, and seemed destined for another loss. But the tide soon changed. Portland’s Kent Bazemore got ejected for his heated arguing in the third quarter the Blazers said it served to fire them up.
The fourth quarter would be one in which Portland would outscore the Raps 32-21. Anthony the 35-year-old 10-time All-Star who is having a bit of a renaissance with his new team had a 10-point quarter. Lillard rose up for 11 points and three assists in the final quarter.
Portland made it uncomfortable mid-way through the fourth, punching to within four points on an Anthony three ball. The Raps stretched the lead back out, only to have the Blazers push back again in the final two minutes. A three-point dagger by Lillard with 37 seconds left in the game tied it up as the Toronto crowd groaned a loud collective ‘NO!”.
A bad pass from McCaw to Lowry landed too low and went out of bounds with the game tied 99-99 and 13.6 seconds left on the clock, causing a turnover. Portland got the ball and CJ McCollum kicked out to Anthongy, who hit the go-ahead jumper, leaving just three seconds for the Raps to orchestrate their final play. Lowry was the one to fire off a game-winning deep attempt, but it didn’t fall.
“Whenever you get a chance to have a moment like that you’ve got to take advantage of it,” said Anthony. “Throughout my career, I’ve always been a guy who will take those shots. I’ve made a ton of them and missed a lot of them as well. But you’ve got to be willing to step up and want to take them.
Lowry was asked what could be said to McCaw about the pass gone wrong.
“Nothing. The game’s over. You deal with it,” said Lowry. “We had a chance of winning. We lost. You learn from it. We get better. We go to work tomorrow.”
The Raptors slipped to 24-13 with the loss. The Blazers improved to 16-22.
Toronto will be right back on the court Wednesday night in Charlotte versus the Hornets. Then on Sunday, they will welcome former Raptor DeMar DeRozan back to Scotiabank Arena with his San Antonio Spurs.