Coming off a blowout-win at home to a putrid New York Knicks side, Toronto had a single night to rest before travelling to Oklahoma City. There stood MVP candidate Paul George with his sidekick. You heard that right. Russell Westbrook, arguably the most entertaining basketball talent on the globe has played Robin to Paul George’s Batman this season. Entering this game, the Thunder boasted a 42-29 record — good for 5th in the Western Conference. On the other side came Toronto, flaunting a 50-21 tally while posting a not-so-inspiring 4-3 record in their last seven contests. Weirdly enough, two of those three losses came against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons — two teams who have combined for 55 wins on the season. If you struggle with math, that’s a whole five more wins than the Raptors have this season.
Two teams… Fifty-five. Combined.
Now to be fair, there are no concrete reasons Toronto should have dropped either one of those games. But they did. And they’ve moved on. It didn’t help that Serge Ibaka was handed down a three-game suspension for his part in a skirmish during the Cavaliers loss (Ibaka returned tonight after serving his suspension). Over the last two seasons and a half, Toronto’s been known as a team that beats up on the league’s minnows while challenging the league-best. This year has been more of the same, but has included its fair share of puzzling losses. Despite that, they sit two games behind Milwaukee for the top spot in the conference.
To the game now.
Toronto began the game executing on an otherworldly level. They were hitting on all cylinders, putting an inordinate amount of stress on the Oklahoma City defense. Marc Gasol’s distribution was on display early, with his constant passing slowly transforming the Thunder into a five-man beyblade. If you’ve been living under a rock, you probably aren’t aware just how much Gasol has changed Toronto’s offense for the better. Team assist percentage has increased drastically, speaking to the increased ball movement. Overall, Toronto has simply looked more threatening with Gasol as one of the team’s primary initiators. Box score drones would beg to differ, as Gasol recorded merely one assist in the first half. Now if Gasol was so unselfish, who was… the selfish one? Well, Pascal Siakam wasn’t necessarily selfish. He was just that much better than whoever decided to guard him. Siakam absolutely dominated throughout the game, recording 21 field goal attempts while making a stellar 14 shots at an impressive 70% clip. With Toronto hitting shot after shot, the result all but seemed to be decided with several minutes remaining in the game.
Then Paul George woke up.
The man who goes by the notorious nickname ‘PG-13’ put on a Rated-R display late, single handedly bringing OKC back to in-game relevance. George sliced and diced Toronto’s lead with multiple three-point bombs, eventually closing the once-massive gap to just five points. Shortly after, Kawhi received the ball on the left-elbow, drove right, and was clearly shoved out of bounds by Paul George. No call. On the other end, Paul George drained yet another three-point shot, bringing the OKC deficit to two. Toronto held the lead, and possession with 39.9 seconds remaining. Nurse wanted a Siakam-Gasol high pick-and-roll, and it worked. Siakam drove, found VanVleet at the top of the arc for a wide-open, rainbow three.
Lucky enough, Siakam carved out perfect rebounding position on the shot, forcing George to foul (a dirty one, at that), ultimately removing him from the game with his sixth and final infraction. Yet again, Toronto ball. This time, a five-second difference between game clock and shot clock. It wasn’t comfortable, but all things considered — the Raptors were still in good position to leave this game victorious. Toronto quickly got the ball to Leonard, who found VanVleet on the move. Freddy came around the corner, drove hard to the hoop, and airmailed a layup. Westbrook clawed for the rebound, gained possession, turned on the jets and before you knew it — in goes a layup.
This is where things got even more controversial. Nick Nurse had just under five seconds on the game clock, writing up a simple play for the eventual Siakam-Gasol high PnR that worked to perfection just minutes earlier. This time around, Siakam charged to the hoop, running over Schroder in the process. Offensive foul. Oklahoma City Thunder ball with the game tied 110-110. I mean, with George now on the bench — every breathing soul watching that game knew the orange sphere was going to Westbrook. Toronto capitalized defensively, leading to a horrid Westbrook jumpshot.
This is where Toronto decided they would officially put this game to bed. They outscored the Thunder 13-4, with Fred VanVleet hitting a massive shot to ice the game. It shouldn’t have been this hard, but it was — a recurring (and slightly worrying) theme for Toronto. Pascal Siakam finished the game with an impressive 33 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. Kawhi Leonard also chipped in with a 22-point performance, hauling in 10 rebounds with 6 assists, to boot. VanVleet and Green scored 23 and 17, respectively — making their own significant mark on the game. Marc Gasol was a team-high +11, pointing to his positive impact. On the other end, Westbrook blew up for a wholesome 42 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. He accounted for 37% of the Thunder’s points for the night.
Toronto will have one full day of rest on Thursday, as they head back home to face… Guess who? The Oklahoma City Thunder. For the remaining ten games on the schedule, Toronto will have exactly one day of rest between each game. That means Toronto will play on every other night until the season is completed (March 22nd, 24th, 26th, 28th etc.). In the meantime, Toronto cannot afford to aimlessly throw away games, as nights like tonight were single possessions away from total implosion on Toronto’s part.
Last but not least, with one of the NBA’s biggest storylines of late — players and fans have clashed in multiple incidents around the league. In turn, this has put a massive spotlight on issues like player safety and fan-engagement within arenas. Unfortunately, that theme trickled into Wednesday night’s game as an Oklahoma City fan hurled a disgusting racial slur at none other than Pascal Siakam. A shameful act that the league would be foolish not to thoroughly investigate. Sadly enough, the trend of despicable fan behaviour continues within the league.
The video is below:
(NSFW Warning: Extremely offensive language used)