After getting off to a 7-2 start, the Portland Trail Blazers have talked about the need to fight complacency and the temptation to indulge in a sense of accomplishment at this early point in the season.
“You can’t let your guard down,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “You have to fight the temptation to be full of yourself and just go out and compete because we’re winning games because we’re playing hard, playing together, doing the right things.”
The Trail Blazers nearly succumbed to complacency Sunday afternoon by giving up a 17-point fourth quarter lead and being pushed to overtime before finally coming away with a 118-110 victory against the Raptors in Toronto.
“These are the type of games that we need to win,” said Stotts. “It would have been easy to go the other way. Got a game tomorrow night and we let it slip away and they got the momentum. I just said, ‘If we’re going to be the team we need to be, we’ve got to win these games.’ They played well.”
The victory, Portland’s sixth-straight, moves the Trail Blazers to 8-2, which is their best start through ten games since going 9-1 to start the 1999-2000 season. Sunday afternoon’s win also ensures they will finish their first Eastern Conference road trip no worse than .500, though they already have their heights set higher than that.
“Winning the first two, not only does that give you confidence but that makes you want to get greedy,” said Damian Lillard “We felt like coming in, all four are winnable games and now that we came and stole two, we’ve got our confidence up. Why not get another one?”
Portland was once again unable to avoid an unnecessarily harrowing end to what could have been a comfortable victory. Toronto cut the lead to 102-100 with under a minute to play in regulation after Landry Fields collected a rebound of a missed free throw by DeMar DeRozan, who finished the possession with an easy dunk. Aldridge would miss a jumper on the other end, leading to a DeRozen drive to the rim for what looked like a game-tying bucket, but Mo Williams tied up DeRozen on the drive to force a jump ball.
Toronto controlled the jump ball and called a timeout with 4.3 seconds to play, setting up an isolation play for Rudy Gay. Gay’s drive with Nicolas Batum defending ended with a layup that found the mark as time expired, sending the contest into overtime.
“I know he wants to go right,” said Batum. “That’s on me. I was very, very mad at myself about that game.”
Gay, who finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds, scored five-straight points in the overtime period, whipping the Air Canada Centre crowd into a frenzy and putting the Raptors up 107-104 with 2:51 to play. On the ensuring possession it looked as if the Trail Blazers might commit a 24-second clock violation, but with time winding down, Damian Lillard pulled up from 28 feet and nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 107-107. Portland would never trail from that point on.
“We have a lot of guys, that could have been anybody,” said Lillard of the shot. “I’m just happened to be in the situation to make a play. The three, we were down three, the shot clock was running down and I knew I needed to raise up. I am just happy it went in.”
Lillard and Batum would combine for 13 of Portland’s 16 points in overtime, with both players hitting timely three-pointers to help the Trail Blazers win their first overtime game of the season.
“I was really just trying to get guys going then I made my first shot and missed some shots,” said Lillard, who overcame a slow start to finish with 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds. “I knew that it would come along and once it got down the stretch I forgot about rest of the game. I was going to attack and try and make plays regardless. I was able to hit some shots and find some guys with some passes.”
Lillard wasn’t the only Trail Blazer who could say that Sunday afternoon. Aldridge also scored 25 points and added 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Batum finished with 24 points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. Mo Williams had yet another efficient outing with 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds and Wesley Matthews once again shot the lights out in the first half, scoring 16 of his 17 points before the intermission while going four of five from the three-point line.
“I think it keeps teams off balance, having so many guys that can get hot during any game,” said Aldridge. “I thought tonight they tried to key in on me early so Wes got going and they kind of loosen up. Then I got going. Second half, Nic got going, then Dame. It keeps teams off balance.”
Portland once again utilized the three-point shot to overcome a lack of interior scoring. Portland outscored Toronto 45-9 from the three-point line, combating a 62-28 points in the paint deficit, which was exacerbated by both Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland experiencing foul trouble.
“We are who we are,” said Stotts of the discrepancies. “I was disappointed to give up 62 points in the paint, especially 30 in the first half. From a defensive standpoint it concerns me because we have to get better at that, but we have to play our style of game. Thirty-two three’s in an overtime game, that’s about right.”
The Trail Blazers now travel back to the United States for a game against the Nets in Brooklyn on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM.