For a half, the Toronto Raptors were able to stick with Oklahoma City. And then the Thunder showed why they’re the Thunder.
With a 104-92 victory over the Raptors on Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre, Oklahoma City used a balanced scoring attack and a strong defensive effort in the second half to start their two-game road trip off with a victory.
The Raptors struggled against the Thunder after a strong start that saw them go into the half trailing by just two points. Alan Anderson led the way for Toronto in the first half, scoring 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting in just 15 minutes of play. They needed every one of them as their starting lineup struggled offensively, with the exception of Amir Johnson (nine points, nine rebounds) and Jose Calderon (10 points, 11 assists).
DeMar DeRozan, Mickael Pietrus and Ed Davis combined to shoot 7-for-27 from the floor. While DeRozan had been successful getting to the line in recent games, he had just four attempts against the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook came out looking to attack and exploit the Raptors’ defence in the third quarter and scored 12 of his 23 points in the quarter. Tempers flared for Toronto in the third, as Kyle Lowry and Dwane Casey each picked up technical fouls for arguing calls (and non-calls) with the officiating crew.
After the game, Casey said the Thunder kept Toronto on their heels for the quarter as they extended a two-point halftime lead to 11 going into the fourth quarter. In the final quarter, the Raptors wouldn’t get closer than nine and trailed by as many as 21 before trimming the deficit to 12 in garbage time.
In addition to Westbrook’s 23 points, Kevin Durant finished with 22, Serge Ibaka scored 19 and Kevin Martin added 16 off the bench. Durant also added seven rebounds and seven assists in his 38 minutes of play. Anderson scored a career-high and game-high 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting as he continued to prove he is an NBA player after playing in Europe and the NBA D-League.
Alan Anderson’s effect
We’ve mentioned the #alanandersoneffect before, but it would be hard to overstate the impact Anderson has on this team when he’s on the floor. Against the Thunder he was fantastic, looking like the best player on the floor for most of the first half. In addition to the scoring boost he’s been providing off of the bench, Anderson is talkative when he’s on the floor and he’s the kind of hard-nosed player that earns bonus points with Dwane Casey.
Off the court, he’s always in a teammate’s ear, the first player off the bench cheering for the team and the player that rookie Terrence Ross credits most with helping him to adjust to the NBA game. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t been able to find an NBA home until now.
More often than not, the better team will win
There’s a reason why the Thunder are 26-7 this season. While there are upsets in the NBA every night, it’s tough to beat a team with as many weapons as Oklahoma City. Shut down Kevin Durant (which, really, no, that’s not going to happen), and Russell Westbrook will get you. If Westbrook is having an off night, Kevin Martin can come off the bench to hang 35 on you. Don’t forget about Serge Ibaka, who — in addition to blocking shots and throwing down — can now drill jumpers in your face.
Oklahoma City is a supremely talented team that is familiar with each other and their offensive and defensive schemes. They can afford to come out a bit slow in the first half because they’ll get you in the second. When playing a team like the Thunder, there isn’t room for error.
DeMar DeRozan has had a rough time in each of the Raptors’ last two losses. It’s not a coincidence that the team struggles when its leading scorer struggles. When DeRozan struggles from the floor and isn’t able to get to the line, the Toronto offence struggles. Especially without Kyle Lowry in the starting lineup or playing the same kind of aggressive basketball he played to start the season.
The Thunder always do a good job on DeRozan and Sunday wasn’t any different. With a final line of 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting, it wasn’t his finest afternoon. It also hurt the Raptors for DeRozan to have just three rebounds and four free throw attempts.
Explosive point guards
Q: How many times have we seen an explosive point guard send the Raptors into a frenzy on the defensive end of the floor?
A: Too many times to count.
While the Raptors were able to contain Westbrook in the first half, he exploded in the second, scoring 12 points in the third quarter as the Thunder pulled away. Westbrook is an incredibly tough cover for anyone in the league; he’s extremely fast, powerful and strong. He also plays with an iron man will that cannot be taught.
With Lowry and Calderon still splitting point guard minutes evenly — Calderon actually played eight minutes more than Lowry on Sunday, perhaps due to Lowry picking up four fouls quickly — the Raptors were especially vulnerable to the wrath of Westbrook.
Aaron Gray missed this game because of the flu. Linas Kleiza missed his third straight game because of a sore right knee. One minute into the fourth quarter, rookie Terrence Ross left the game after tweaking his left ankle. While Casey doesn’t expect the sprain to be serious, it would be a bummer if Ross were to miss time after cracking the rotation and starting to adjust to the speed and skill level of the NBA game.
- Scotty Brooks was impressed with the first half that Anderson had for the Raptors and had praise for him after the game: “He was good. He made four threes, I think, in that first half. He was automatic. And then his midrange game and driving — [he] made a couple of layups. He’s a good player. I give him a lot of credit because he’s been throughout the league a little bit in his short career, but I think he’s found a home and he’s taken advantage of it…Nineteen points in the first half was a big part of their game in that first half.”
- The Raptors were very unhappy with the officiating. It’s hard to blame them.
While the final free throw attempts count stands at 24 attempts for the Thunder and 21 for the Raptors, at one point Oklahoma City had attempted 18 free throws to Toronto’s five. In addition to Lowry and Casey getting technicals, Kevin Durant picked up a technical for the Thunder as neither side was particularly happy with how the game was called.
Despite the end result, Casey was happy with the effort his team gave against the Thunder, and acknowledged how tough it is to defeat a team as stacked with talent as Oklahoma City.
“I praised our guys, the way we fought and scrapped…but at the end of the day reality set in.” he said.
- After the game, teammate Russell Westbrook and opponent Alan Anderson called Kevin Durant the best scorer in the game. They’re not wrong.
- Nick Collison on OKC’s defensive effort: “We were active. We were locked in. We’re trying to always fight over screens and make them shoot over our hands or make them do something else…Play deep into the shot clock. It was another good defensive game for us. That’s two in a row for us where we’ve been locked in for the majority of the game.”
- Durant stressed that this game was won on the defensive end of the floor: “It wasn’t the offence, it was our defence. Our defence was really solid. We closed the paint up and we got back in transition. Once we do that, we always give ourselves a chance.”