'The Bad Starts Have Become a Trend': Lack of Consistency Burns Trail Blazers Again vs. Raptors
Portland's nightmare month continues with a disappointing home loss to Toronto.
PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first seven minutes on Saturday, the Trail Blazers averaged a point a minute. They shot 6-for-22 in the first quarter, finished the period with 14 points and trailed the Raptors by 23.
Take that part out, and the rest of the way they shot 34-for-54 from the field. They trailed by 19 at the half, cut it to five at the end of the third quarter, got it down to four midway through the fourth—and couldn't get the comeback over the finish line, falling 123-105 to slip back below .500 by three games coming off two strong wins.
It was the same story as it's been for much of January: down starters Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic, they struggled to find anything resembling consistency.
"The bad starts have become a trend," Damian Lillard said. "I don't know if we were or were not ready to play, but they came out with more energy than we did and more urgency than we did, and they jumped out on us. For us, I felt like it was similar to the Philly game. It was an uphill battle from early on."
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Despite having less than half of the 24 turnovers that did the Blazers in when these teams played in Toronto earlier this month, the offense had no rhythm, and the early deficit took a toll later on: Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons both eclipsed 40 minutes, and Lillard wasn't far behind at 37.
"We fought so hard to get back in it to get it to four, and I thought we did run out of gas," Chauncey Billups said after the game. "We had to overplay guys."
Lillard didn't have many answers for why this keeps happening, these slow starts and the lack of urgency as they fail once again to capitalize on an opportunity to gain ground in the Western Conference.
"The number one thing that comes to my mind is urgency and the desire to just get it done, however it has to happen," Lillard said. "I think sometimes for everybody, but for us specifically in this stretch, when you're on your home floor you just think it's gonna go well sometimes. You've got these teams coming in on the road and they're trying to come get one. It's more important for them on the road to get off to a good start. And I just think as a home team you have to also have that mentality. You just expect to have positive things happen on your home floor, and teams are just jumping out on us."
I asked him if there's a way for players to drill out, or unlearn, the notion that things are going to work out at home.
"I think everybody thinks that," he said. "No matter how long you're in the league, or whatever it is, I think that. I think things are going to go well, because you've got to have that type of mentality. We all as a team have to be more mature about how we start a game and how you set the tone."
With less than two weeks to go before the trade deadline, this is a team in flux. They missed Hart and Nurkic in this matchup in particular, where they were demolished on the glass (losing the rebounding battle 45-27), but the "connectivity" and "urgency" issues have been present for most of the year, no matter who is or isn't healthy.
"It's tough," Lillard said. "It's hard anytime you can't be whole for long periods of time, it's going to be hard to be on the same page and to really get going. But that's been the story of our season. Guys have been in and out of the lineup. But we're not the only team dealing with it. That comes with the game we play. We get paid a lot of money to be able to deal with these types of things and still come out and do our jobs. There's really no excuse. We spend more time around each other than we spend around our own families, so we should know each other as people, we should know each other's games and what has to happen for us to make it click. We just haven't been consistent at that. We've had it some nights, and other nights we haven't. It is tough when you're dealing with injuries all the time, but it's really no excuse."
What We Saw
For paid subscribers, notes, thoughts and observations from the game, plus the Jersey of the Night: