Raptors beat the Thunder three times in one game | Drake done fucked up | Some 3rd party grades at the halfway mark
Three — Clutch: What’s refreshing is that the Raptors didn’t panic when the game grew tight, even after an and-one by Danilo Gallinari cut the lead to one. Pascal Siakam got to the hoop for a bucket, Kyle Lowry drove inside for another pair of layups, and Norman Powell finished it off with a driving dunk after taking it right past his man. Part of this success was a reflection of the defense as the Thunder had a bearded pylon in Mike Muscala as its last line, but it was also simply great execution by the Raptors. There is an ongoing question concerning how the Raptors will close games, and without that one clear-cut superstar, tonight’s team approach might be Toronto’s best bet.
Had VanVleet been healthy, he would have been in the game instead of McCaw, no questions asked. The Thunder beg you to play multiple guards, and taking care of the ball becomes paramount when you have a lead. It is not as if McCaw or Anunoby were being particularly reckless in handling the ball; they were just overmatched in those scenarios.
The Raptors have coughed up big leads a few times lately: in Portland last week, against San Antonio on Sunday and against the Thunder. After the game, Nick Nurse said he was a bit concerned about his team’s conditioning, which makes sense given the players who are coming back into the lineup, as well as the ones — mainly Lowry — who have been pushed to their limits as the Raptors have tried to survive without a good part of their rotation. That is a possible explanation for the Raptors appearing to be running on fumes at times, but so is the reality that they are a team without an upper-echelon superstar. Very good teams that do not have one of those players usually require every contributor they have to play at that level. No matter how healthy they are, the Raptors still need VanVleet back to give them that extra bit of elite ballhandling they miss without him.
Still, with Marc Gasol returning after a 12-game absence on Wednesday, one game after Siakam and Norman Powell came back, these are exciting times for the Raptors. While Wednesday might have been a hard one to watch, these have to be good signs as the Raptors head into the second half of the regular season.
The Raptors led Wednesday’s game by as much as 30 points, but nearly saw that lead evaporate in the fourth quarter.
Toronto started the game very strong, scoring 38 points in the first quarter on nearly 70 per cent shooting before finishing up the opening half with a 73-55 advantage.
In the third quarter, the Raptors got sloppy with the ball, turning it over seven times allowing OKC to crawl back into the game and enter the fourth down only 14.
Then in the final period, it was the Raptors’ defence that let them down as they allowed the Thunder to put up a 38-point frame of their own and saw that 30-point gap shrink to as few as three points with 2:09 left to play.
It made for great entertainment with the game turning from a laugher into a nail-biter down the stretch, but this should still be concerning for Toronto as it’s becoming a trend for the team.
Had OKC managed to complete the comeback, this would’ve been the third time in four games where the Raptors would’ve blown a fourth-quarter lead.
The two other games in question are the ones against the Portland Trail Blazers last week and Sunday’s game versus the San Antonio Spurs. In each of those matchups, it was thought that the major point of contention for the Raptors was their poor fourth-quarter offence. However, this growing issue of poor final-frame play may have more to do with the Raptors’ defence.
The offence was fine Wednesday, but the Raptors allowed OKC to score 33 points in the final quarter, something very similar to the 32 and 36 spots, respectively, in the fourth that the Blazers and Spurs had against the Raptors recently.
The issues for the Raptors in this game were sometimes self-inflicted, other times running into a Thunder team prone to hot and cold stretches.
Starting with the latter, every OKC set seemed to look the same — either Chris Paul or Dennis Schroeder getting into the paint, then setting up a swing sequence for their shooters. Some guys had makes (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went 2-for-2) and others couldn’t hack it (Danilo Gallinari only made 4-of-11). But the consistency of their open looks allowed them to go on serious runs. Schroeder would end up leading them in scoring with 25, while Gallinari added 23.
For the self-inflicted stuff, the Raptors really didn’t run their offence well at all when faced with Thunder ball pressure. Nurse has favoured using Lowry off-ball as often as possible, but neither Patrick McCaw nor Anunoby looked comfortable bringing the ball up, resulting in ill-timed turnovers as the Thunder rallied late. This points a bit to the Raptors missing Fred VanVleet, but it was still painful to watch possessions go to waste while Toronto searched for an initial pass.
Luckily, guys made some really big shots in the fourth quarter. Gasol and OG made these looks back-to-back, shortly following a Norman Powell double-clutch three to end the third quarter.
Confused? Everyone was Wednesday night at The ‘Peake, where Toronto beat the Thunder three times. The final score was 130-121, so the Raptors get credit for just one victory in the standings, but make no mistake, the Thunder was thrice beaten.
A team that memorably staged back-to-back comebacks from 26- and 24-point deficits a month ago (Chicago and Memphis) staged back-to-back incredible comebacks in a solitary game against the Raptors.
“We know if there’s time on the clock, there’s nothing that us as a group is not capable of,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “And it’s been a little bit of us in the past to get down a little bit. A lot, actually, to start games. We just gotta figure out a way to not let that happen.”
The Thunder trailed 73-43 with 1:30 left in the second quarter. The Thunder trailed 91-83 with 1:30 left in the third quarter. Math majors will decipher that in those 12 minutes, the Thunder played exquisite basketball.
But before and immediately after that 22-point swing, the Thunder didn’t take care of the ball and let the defending NBA champions have their way. Toronto’s lead was back up to 116-95 with 7:21 left in the game.
Might have been a good time for Billy Donovan to surrender so his squad could fortify for a tough stretch upcoming, especially since Steven Adams suffered a knee bruise early in the game and was unavailable.
The Thunder faithful have been spoiled this season by a team that has an affinity for digging themselves a huge double digit, many times over 20 points, hole and fighting back valiantly to escape with a dramatic, narrow win led by Chris Clutch Crunchtime Comeback Paul.
The Thunder have been the Vincent van Gogh of comeback wins this season, and tonight they almost painted their masterpiece. But alas, the Raptors cut their ears off just short of pulling off the unthinkable double comeback.
A 30 point Toronto lead at the end of the second quarter was dwindled down to just 8 points at the end of the third quarter. Then a 21 point deficit halfway through the fourth quarter was cut to just 3 on Gallo’s dunk.
A finally healthy Pascal Siakam finger rolled a layup home on the other end, just to be matched by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s two free throw makes right after to keep OKC within one possession with only 2:09 left in the game.
This game was the halfway point in the 2019-20 season for the Thunder, and the OKC fans in attendance have been conditioned by the previous 40 games to believe a 3 point affair following a monster comeback meant that Paul and Co were going to get stops and hit shots in the final two minutes.
These two teams always seem to play close, fun games against one another. For most of the game, though, the game was out of hand in favor of the defending champions. The OKC Thunder were outclassed by the Toronto Raptors for most of the game tonight, only to have a valiant comeback effort fall short.
Toronto came to play, as their offensive onslaught began at tip-off. Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka imposed their will on OKC early as the Raptors stretched their lead to 13 as the first quarter came to a close.
The Thunder never really got into a rhythm in the first half, as they also lost their center Steven Adams to a knee contusion sometime during the first frame. That didn’t help matters as the lead ballooned to 30 points late in the second quarter. OKC hit four straight triples to cut the lead to 18 points going into halftime.
More of the same was to come in the third quarter until the OKC Thunder finally started to wake up. Their offense picked up some steam as they cut the once insurmountable lead to eight late in the period. But the Raptors were not to be denied as they took the Thunder’s punch and socked them right back with a run of their own to bring the lead back to the 20’s midway through the 4th quarter.
The Thunder, who have not been known to give up, had one last run left in them as they actually made it a one score game with less than two minutes to go. But the magic ran out, and Toronto held on to a thrilling win for their team.
A 30-point lead by the Raptors who were absolutely cooking in every facet of the game for most of the night, got all the way down to a three-point lead twice in the final three minutes before the visitors calmed things down and put away the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 130-121 final was almost deceiving if you watched this one in real time.
Backed by a frenzied crowd smelling a comeback of epic proportions, the Thunder got hot from the outside and almost rode it to a win.
Late baskets from Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry ended the runs and the Thunder never got any closer.
It marked the third game in the past four that the Raptors have had some major slippage in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the week they suffered home losses to both Portland and San Antonio sandwiched around an overtime win in Charlotte.
This one would have made it three in four games, but for some real patience and perseverance by the Raptors that saved them from another big blown lead.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said he was not concerned about the results of this past week but he did admit to being a little anxious about his teams’ conditioning as it approach the halfway mark.
“Yeah, I think in general I am a little concerned about our conditioning,” Nurse said. “I just think we are playing extremely hard in stretches, especially at the start, and then it seems to me more like we rev our motor really high and then they come back at us or halftime comes and then (that revving motor) just goes all the way down and we can’t quite get it revved up to the same extent. That has to do with conditioning and recovery. I just have to be a little more careful with the stints and how long they are so they don’t go past the exhaustion point.”
Go big or go home. That seemed to be the Raptors’ approach to their 130-121 road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse, with all his top guys but Fred VanVleet at his disposal, went as big as his team could get with a starting five of Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, making his return from a hamstring injury.
Toronto’s height didn’t dwarf the Thunder but the Raptors certainly looked the stronger of the two teams as they built a 13-point lead after one quarter and 18 at the half.
But it’s never that easy against a young team brimming with potential like the Thunder, in a venue like Chesapeake Energy Arena that rivals Scotiabank Arena for atmosphere. While the Raptors held Paul to four points in the first half, Toronto native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a respectable 10 coming off his first career triple double. And Oklahoma City chipped away at the lead through the second half, eventually cutting the visitors’ lead to three points with a little more than two minutes to play. But big plays by Lowry (17 points), Siakam (21) and Norman Powell (23) were enough to quell the comeback.
The Raptors finished with seven players in double digits, including all five starters.
Dennis Schroder led the Thunder with 25 points, Danilo Gallinari added 23, and Gilgeous-Alexander finished the night with 21 points.
One of the main reasons the Raptors won the title last season was their work on the defensive side of the ball. Their length, size and talent frustrated the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, helped slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference finals and made life miserable for the shorthanded Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Now, despite losing Leonard and Green, and dealing with a string of injuries to key players such as Siakam, the Raptors are once again one of the best defensive teams in the league. As of this writing, they’re second in defensive rating, allowing just 103.8 points per 100 possessions, they are top 10 in steals and blocks per game and are even higher up the rankings in deflections and loose balls recovered.
While much of that credit goes to the players, coach Nick Nurse deserves praise as well. Maintaining this level of play on that end of the floor despite all the challenges he’s faced is quite impressive. As our own James Herbert detailed in his story earlier this month, Nurse’s flexibility and willingness to get creative have played a big role in keeping the Raptors’ defense at the top of the charts.
When the Raptors won Game 5 of their second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum, it was Drake that Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet were FaceTiming in the raucous Raptors dressing room. It was Drake who hosted their championship bender in Las Vegas. It was Drake who was on the double-decker bus beside Leonard at the championship parade.
Drake’s connection was real, and he’s delivered all the memes, third jerseys, court designs and social media buzz any self-respecting franchise could ever want.
He just couldn’t deliver Kawhi. It’s probably not his fault.
As it turns out, the ice that runs through Leonard’s veins when he’s hitting series-winning shots against the Philadelphia 76ers doesn’t just get turned off.
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You’d think if Leonard wanted to negotiate his way out of Toronto, he’d have the decency to rent a suite at the Beverly Wilshire or at least get the overly enthusiastic Microsoft dude who owns the Clippers to foot the bill.
But he chose to use Drake’s place.
It’s doubtless another scar on Aubrey’s always pulsing heart muscle.
Not the first or the last. Being a Raptors fan – a super-fan with benefits – means getting hurt once in a while.
There were countless text messages and phone calls and then two in-person meetings at Drake’s house in Hidden Hills, California. (Drake had befriended Leonard during his season in Toronto and let Leonard — who lives in San Diego — stay there when he was in Los Angeles for free-agent meetings.) By July 1, they had decided to put their plan in motion: Leonard told the Clippers that he was interested in playing for them but only if they could improve their roster by adding an All-Star-caliber player like George.
The next day, Leonard met with George in Los Angeles. Shortly after their meeting, George’s agent placed a call to Thunder president Sam Presti, asking if he would look for a trade to help George and Leonard play together.
The pair kept in constant communication, even meeting again at Drake’s house after Leonard returned from a meeting in Toronto, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
As Powell recovered from a subluxation of his left shoulder, what stood out most was getting more paint touches on offence. It was something he immediately tried to put into practice in Sunday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, when both he and Siakam returned to Toronto’s starting lineup.
“Being able to create plays or being able to punch the paint and make the defence rotate,” he said Sunday. “That’s what I tried to do (against San Antonio), just get into the paint and have the defence collapsing, find the kick-out passes so we can get better looks.”
He shared that his viewpoint with his teammates. When Terence Davis Jr. had a career night against Charlotte last week, he was quick to credit Powell offering his insights.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse was keen to see his lesser-used players step up when called upon. Patrick McCaw made 11 his starts while Siakam, Powell and Gasol were out. Nurse has always been a fan of McCaw’s game, but when he started playing 31 minute a night during the injury crisis versus the 19.6 minutes before it, the bigger sample size showed him playing well for parts of the night and then disappearing. Nurse’s solution was to call some plays that put the ball back in McCaw’s hands so that he couldn’t disappear.
“Just little things like that, you’re learning,” Nurse said.
Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images
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