For a team that has lost 113 man-games due to injury already this season — third-most in the NBA and matching their total from last season — the Toronto Raptors have executed fairly well in important moments throughout the season.
They failed to recreate that magic last night, falling to the shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder 98-97 in Scotiabank Arena.
The Raptors, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after defeating the Boston Celtics a night prior, went into the game as confident as they could for a team missing three of their best players. But the Thunder were in even better form: Despite missing Danillo Gallinari (ankle), Dennis Schroder (ankle), Hamidou Diallo (elbow), the Thunder entered the contest having won five of their last six contests and in the seventh spot in the West.
A large part of their success has been due to Canadian point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who entered the game averaging 26.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 2.0 steals in his last five games. SGA picked up right where he started, scoring 20 points in the first half while shooting 8-11 from the field, giving him as many field goals as the entire Thunder team in the half.
At the half Shai is shooting 8-for-11, his Thunder teammates 8-for-28!
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) December 30, 2019
It wasn’t just SGA’s lethal first step — which Nurse called one of the quickest in the league — but also his ability to hit timely threes that helped the Thunder gain a lead that they wouldn’t surrender. SGA went 3-5 from three-point land, while Chris Paul hit three of his own and Darius Bazley hit four. Still, no other Thunder player hit a single three, as the team went 10-33 on the night giving the Raptors plenty of opportunities to win.
While OKC won the guard battle due to SGA’s phenomenal 32-point night and Paul’s masterclass in the pick-and-roll leading to 25-points and eight assists, the Raptors actually had a slight edge in big men play. Serge Ibaka was solid, scoring 12 points and 14 rebounds while hitting some timely shots and holding the bigger Steven Adams to just nine points. Chris Boucher, who was up against Nerlens Noel (who was good all night on the defensive end), had nine points and five rebounds of his own off the bench.
The Raptors, however, lacked energy and focus in the uncharacteristic loss. For a team lacking so much talent, the Raptors are smart enough to know that they need to win the energy battle and play fast to win. They failed to do that, getting outrebounded 43-42, outplayed in transition (nine fast-break points for OKC to eight for the Raptors), and committing 17 turnovers. Despite shooting the ball relatively well, especially from behind the arc where they connected on 15-40 threes, the Raptors lack of energy and focus did them in.
That was especially true down the stretch, as the Raptors were given every chance to come back and failed.
There was the missed travel/double-dribble on Chris Paul, which Nurse never let go, but the Raptors were given a makeup call the very next play, sending Fred VanVleet to the line for two shots to put the Raptors up one with 54.2 seconds remaining, 97-96.
And a blatant make-up call gets VanVleet to line with Raps getting into penalty. Let’s never speak of this again.
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) December 30, 2019
On the next play, SGA took his time until an opportunity opened up and drove by Lowry and VanVleet for the floater in the lane, giving the Thunder a 98-97 lead they wouldn’t surrender.
THUNDER WIN! A equipe de Oklahoma bate os Raptors por 98 a 97.
Shai: 32 pts, 7 rebs, 3 stls
Paul: 25 pts, 11 rebs, 8 ast
Noel: 13 pts, 3 stls, 3 blks
Ibaka: 12 pts, 14 rebs
Lowry: 20 pts, 5 ast
VanVleet: 20 pts, 8 astpic.twitter.com/EnzQy9Kpvo
— 4theWin (@_4thewin) December 30, 2019
Aside from VanVleet’s free-throws, the Raptors could not buy a bucket down the stretch, committing a shot-clock violation and two offensive turnovers in the final 2:42 of the game. The Raptors were uncharacteristically bad in important moments for a team that has been excellent down the stretch of close games.
With Siakam and Powell out, the Raptors need guys to step into scoring roles to help take a bit of the load of Lowry, who has been playing some of the best basketball of his career but can’t close out games by himself on a night-to-night basis. Anunoby, who shot 0-7 from three, didn’t help.
Still, plenty of credit goes to the Thunder, who had excellent guard play and wings like Luguentz Dort step up on the defensive end to limit Lowry. The Thunder played a solid road game, giving them their fifth straight win in Toronto.
The Raptors are now 3-3 since the injuries to Siakam, Gasol, and Powell and will have a chance to redeem themselves as they host the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night at 7:00pm.