The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Toronto Raptors tonight by a score of 108-88, and as the saying goes, it was not even that close. The Thunder led from start to finish and after pulling into a double-digit lead early on, were never seriously threatened.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who had another strong bounce-back game by scoring 19 points to go along with 8 assists against only a single turnover. He was accompanied by Serge Ibaka, who for the second game in a row provided good offense by scoring 17 off of 8-9 shooting. That other guy Kevin Durant did all right as well, finishing with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.
The Raptors were never competitive after their new import Kyle Lowry left the game in the 2nd quarter with 1:29 remaining after sustaining a sprained ankle. After that point, the Thunder fast break kicked in and the lead ballooned to 29 before OKC called off the attack.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Tonight's game was a positive rejoinder that yes, the Thunder can put their efforts together and dominate a lesser team. As we often remind ourselves here, a good team beats a bad team by dominating on the defensive end, and that is what the Thunder did tonight. OKC held the Raptors to only 37 first half points by eliminating almost all inside scoring and putting tremendous pressure on the Raptors' perimeter players to make up the difference. The shots were not falling, and the Thunder did a great job securing the defensive boards in order to ignite the fast break. Once Westbrook got things kicking into high gear there was no way the Raptors were going to chase them down.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder committed to playing stout defense in the middle of the lane and held the Raptors to 35.7 shooting from the field and 23.3% from the 3-point line. This defensive effort completely took the Raptors outside of their comfort level, and what we should take away from this is that the Thunder do not even need Durant or Westbrook to play at an All-Star level in order to beat lesser teams. To the contrary, the duo can play rather pedestrian games but by playing to their entire team's strengths, the still formidable depth of the Thunder takes hold.
Last season, the Thunder played dominant stretches of ball because they could sustain a high level of play going from their starting 5 to their second team. There was little if any letdown, and the incremental advantage they had provided the cushion the team needed to make it to the 4th quarter and allow Durant to take over.
Over these first three games, we did not see that same kind of balance. Durant was trying to get everyone involved, Westbrook is trying to find his way, and the bench play mostly consisted of newcomer Kevin Martin shooting perimeter jumpers. In tonight's game however we saw a full array from the entire team, as Serge Ibaka scored 17, Thabo Sefolosha scored 11, Kevin Martin had 15, and even Hasheem Thabeet recorded his first double-digit scoring game (he still fouled out in 22 minutes...baby steps).
To be sure, we are always going to see good bench scoring during a rout, but it is important to remember that the rout was on while Durant and Westbrook were struggling in their own offense, instead pushing that offense to others.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Thunder once again tallied a nice assist total, assisting on 24 of their 35 made baskets. This team is never going to have the San Antonio Spurs' aura of always seeming to know when and where to make the extra pass, but to OKC's credit they are beginning to move the ball much more crisply and quickly. I think that this is a measure of difference between what we think makes a good passing team and what a good passing team really is. We hold out guys like Chris Paul as the model of assists, but in reality very few of his assists are of the highlight real variety. Most of them come on strategic set-ups in spacing and player motion, and that kind of passing is what we saw tonight.
In fact, we are beginning to see two distinct sides to the Thunder offense - the first is their traditional way of one player dominating the ball trying to figure out how to score. The second is a quick passing offense that we first saw in the Spurs playoff series last year, where the Thunder began to play Spurs ball better than the Spurs were. That type of passing was on display tonight, and it is a contagious way of playing.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
This game means that we can stop panicking for at least a day, right? Maybe?
Seriously though, I think that even though Durant struggled from the field, this was the type of game that lends much more naturally to Durant's talents. It isn't even a matter of him netting 8 assists in the last game and only 3 tonight; rather, it is the fact that he was being looked to as a scoring option in the half-court. When Durant is the featured offensive hub, everything else begins to make more sense. Shooters know how to space out along side him, Westbrook seems to have a better sense of when to drive and when to stay in holding pattern, and Ibaka becomes a much better catch and shoot player.
I am sure that the balance will continue to be tinkered with, but for this night, the formula was spot on, and that makes for a big win despite the fact that most Thunder players did not even play up to their normal level. That is the sign of a good team.
|Final - 11.6.2012||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||30||27||28||23||108|
Apologies for the delayed recap. If you hadn't heard, there was a little election going on here stateside and it was dividing my attention on the night. For the record, I'm currently drinking a glass of MacCallan. Make of that what you will.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 19 points, 8 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 17 points on 8-9 shooting, 4 rebounds
Thunder Blunder: None
Thunder Plunderer: Jonas Valanciunas, 18 points, 6 rebounds
Next game: Thursday, Nov. 8 @ the Chicago Bulls, 7PM CDT
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