Trail Mix: Blazers 102, Raptors 97

(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

The Portland Trail Blazers narrowly escaped with a win Tuesday night 102-97 in overtime against the Toronto Raptors.

In the locker room after the game, Nicolas Batum got right to the business. He looked a little embarrassed and was ready to talk about the moment that almost spoiled the New Year for the Blazers and their fans.

The Blazers, in the words of head coach Terry Stotts, had already lost a game because they held on to the ball anticipating their opponent would foul. It was their Nov. 2 loss against the Golden State Warriors where they lost a one point lead by turning the ball over three times in the final 15 seconds.

Batum’s pass needed more zip and it opened the door for Amir Johnson to tie the game and send it to overtime with 4.7 seconds left. After the game, Batum sheepishly began to talk about his mistakes that almost lost them the game.

“I knew if we lost that one everybody is going to be mad at me right now,” Batum said.  “So I’m glad we won that game, trust me.”

But thanks to what came after, Batum was able to be in a joking mood before wishing everybody a Happy New Year.

“Like I said to Steve: ‘Steve, can jump higher than that.,'” he joked. “That’s not technically 100 percent all me. Steve can jump higher. But we won the game.”

The Blazers made huge plays and earned a win against one of the best teams in the league. The Raptors took the Blazers out of their game for three quarters. But Portland made huge plays down the stretch of the game. Wesley Matthews agreed that the fourth quarter where they held the Raptors to 17 points was their most important defensive quarter of the season.

“It probably was,” he said. “It was a stand that we needed to make. It was a stand that we desperately needed to make. That was a big game. December 30, this was a huge game between two good teams.”

Portland easily could have lost. After the game Joel Freeland, who probably played the most he ever has in a crunch time NBA situation, and Matthews were going over a play that they felt they left on the court.

The Blazers know they could have lost this game and probably should have the way the Raptors beat them up for three quarters. They also know what they did to steal it from Toronto isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“They took it to us in the first half,” Matthews said. “They took it to us for 3 quarters. They were the aggressors and it’s hard to be the second aggressor and win the game. We were able to do that and our offense was ready to go.”

  • The Blazers can forget the mistakes they made late thanks to the plays they did make. “I had to make a big plays after that,” Batum said about the pass he made to send the game to overtime. I got the assist for Dame and the 3 from the corner.” Batum also lamented a turnover he had to start the overtime. Batum has had a tough season so far and he was certainly thankful the end result didn’t leave him as the scapegoat.
  • The other story of this game was replay review. The game operators had to reach into some of the Top 40 hits after the replays went well over the duration of the “Serial” podcast theme song, a new addition to the review process at the Moda Center. There was clearly some difference in opinion between the team’s head coaches. Dwane Casey replied “no comment” when asked about the clear path fouls that were ruled on during the overtime. The Raptors were initially awarded a clear path foul with 1:08 left in the overtime on a steal by Terrence Ross. The review overturned the call. Less than a minute later Toronto’s Grevis Vasquez was whistled for a clear path foul and it was upheld leading to two shots and the ball for the Blazers in the closing moments. The game wasn’t really over until Joel Freeland’s dunk in the final seconds. But although there was a lot of discussion and unhappiness with the way and frequency replay was used Tuesday on social media, LaMarcus Aldridge has a cautionary tale. “I’ve been on the end of bad calls,” he said. “So I rather them get it right. We were rolling one season and then I blocked (Kevin Durant) to win the game. And then it was called a goal tend and we lost. Our whole season crash after that so I don’t have a problem with them taking their time.” Of course Aldridge is referring to a game in February 2012 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That game eventually opened the door to replay reform with regards to reviewing goaltending calls. This is what we get when we want to get it right. Sometimes it takes time. But this crew didn’t do itself any favors.
  • “There’s a lot of huddles with not a lot to talk about,” said Stotts about how the constant replay reviews changed the game.
  • Matthews jokingly said “What time is it? It was the longest game ever.”
  • The Blazers probably don’t win this game in this fashion last season. Portland’s endless talk about their defensive aspirations has become a reality. The Raptors certainly left a few shots out there but the Blazers defense was stout when it needed to be. The Blazers didn’t allow easy shots. Lillard came over for weakside blocks. Freeland was patrolling the rim and sending Kyle Lowry away in the closing moments.
  • This was as good of a game as you will see in the regular season. It wasn’t quite playoff intensity but it was one of the best games this season. The intensity was high in the building and the large contingent of Raptors fans made the atmosphere even more raucous. Matthews called the win huge and he wasn’t the only Blazer to compare this game to other games against tough teams. “It was another opportunity for us to get tested,” Lillard said. We played Memphis and they got the best of us. Golden State, we had an opportunity to beat them at the end of the game. Houston, we were shorthanded. We had an opportunity to go there and this was our next opportunity. Not putting our heads down and feeling like we were out of it. Our team was really positive. We kept competing. We found a way to get it done.”
  • Something that stands out about the Blazers is the way they are motivated by what they haven’t done. They are 26-7 and have the most wins in the NBA. Whether it’s Matthews and Freeland talking about a play they missed or Lillard referencing only the times they didn’t perform to their abilities, the Blazers have the ability to improve the next time around.
  • “I mean, I’m pleased,” said Stotts when asked about the team’s 26-7 record going into the New Year. “I think anybody would have taken this record going into 2015. The most important thing is that we’ve still got 49 wins to go. We’re not even halfway through. IT’s good to be where we are, but we play a good team on Saturday and like I said, we’ve got a lot of games to go. I don’t think anybody is taking it for granted or being complacent. We’ve put a lot of expectations on ourselves.”



Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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