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 Trail Blazers to steal a sneaky 101-99 victory.
Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 28 points, including the winning bucket in the final three seconds to cap off Portland’s comeback and silence the fans inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. Damian Lillard powered up in the second half and put on 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 Raptors have now been without Pascal Siakam (groin), Norman Powell (shoulder) and Marc Gasol (hamstring) for 10 games and have a 5-5 record in that time.
Toronto got three-point specialist Matt Thomas back on Tuesday, but it was one step forward and one step back for the defending champs. They were without Fred VanVleet as the feisty guard sits for an unspecified amount of time dealing with a strained right hamstring.
Covering VanVleet’s heavy minutes often proves tricky for the Raptors, just as it was when he missed five games in December with an injured knee. Head coach Nick Nurse turned to his seventh starting lineup of the season. He trotted out Lowry, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ibaka at tip-off.
Thomas had eight points in his return to action after a 21-game layoff with a middle finger injury on his left hand. 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 Raptors 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 four-time NBA all-star Lillard to just two points in the half on 0-of-3 shooting.
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, Oshae 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 alongside the Raptors starters. 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. But that did not last.
Portland made it uncomfortable midway 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 collective, "No!”
A bad pass from McCaw to Lowry landed out of bounds with the game tied 99-99 and 13.6 seconds left on the clock. That gave Portland the ball back and enabled Anthony to 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 potentially game-winning deep ball, but it didn’t fall.
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.