The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Toronto Raptors Sunday afternoon by a score of 104-92. Relying on a strong defensive effort in the 1st and 3rd quarters, the Thunder were able to put the Raptors in a recovery position for most of the game and gradually built up a double-digit lead in the 2nd half that the Raptors could not overcome.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 23 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. Kevin Durant finished with 22 points on 6-11 while also handing out 7 assists of his own, while grabbing 7 rebounds in the process. Overall, the Thunder put 5 different players in double figures on the afternoon, with Serge Ibaka finishing with 19, Kevin Martin with 16, and Nick Collison with 10 points.
What is your initial reaction to today's result?
It might seem that this game was closer than it should have been, but as Zorgon noted in the game preview, the Raptors have seemed to turn a corner this season after Andrea Bargnani was sidelined and his return timetable is unknown. Even so, the Thunder hobbled their way through the first 2 1/2 quarters trying to figure out the best way to attack the weak Raptors defense, up until OKC finally realized that perhaps their own defense was the real problem.
It wasn't a flashy win, but the team played solid defense and rebounded particularly well, grabbing 10 more rebounds than the Raptors, including 5 offensive boards. While the team was a little too reliant on the 3-point shot and didn't shoot it particularly well, the double-digit win was still a positive result.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
OKC saw its opportunity to exert itself midway through the 3rd quarter. The Thunder were having trouble pulling away from Toronto, leading at the half only by 2 and then with 7 minutes remaining, only a point at 60-59. The Thunder went on a defensive-led run over the remainder to finally build some distance between they and the Raptors. OKC closed out the quarter on an 18-8 run which featured an attacking Westbrook, who scored 8 points during the stretch. Meanwhile, the Thunder defense started forcing Raptors turnovers, and when those were coupled with a variety of missed shots, the Raptors found themselves trailing by double digits and the deficit never shrank more than that.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Thunder got great balanced scoring from their two primary scoring threats, Durant and Westbrook. I have no numbers on hand to support this, but the general sentiment about a team's supporting cast is that they usually have a bit more trouble doing well on the road versus at home. This time out however, Ibaka played another strong offensive game, hitting 8-10 shots for 19 points. Kevin Martin continued to work himself back into a productive state by scoring 16 points off the bench, and Collison once again came close to getting a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 8 rebounds. In total the bench produced 33 points. With the Thunder starters now producing offense at an extremely efficient clip, a bench production total in that 30-35 point range is going to consistently help the team get the wins they need.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder got a good win today, improving their record to 26-7. More importantly though, let's go back to what Zorgon said before the last Raptors game:
...If you'll remember the trade that the Thunder just executed with the Rockets, you'll know that the Thunder hold a protected pick from the Raptors this year. Basically, if the Raptors finish in the lottery and don't fall in the top 3, the pick is ours. If not, it rolls into next year. Since we want as good of a lotto position as possible, it's in our best interest to beat the Raptors in both of our encounters with them this season. This is especially considering the fact that the Raptors are improving (potentially forcing us to collect the pick a couple years down the line). Oh yeah, and draft pick positioning can be decided by 1 or 2 games. Just ask the Warriors last year, who had to tank their final game in order to avoid sacrificing their pick to the Jazz. So what happens today could heavily affect the Thunder's fortunes come June.
In other words, the Thunder did their part to ensure that the Raptors remain a lottery team, but not too poor a lottery team. They sweep the Raptors in the regular season, 2-0. Up next are the Washington Wizards who, well...you know.
To celebrate the return of Downton Abby tonight, Westbrook decided to visit the Countess to get his knee worked on. She's the best.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 23 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, 10 points, 8 rebounds (4 offensive) in 21 minutes
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, who went 1-5 from 3-point range while committing 5 fouls on the night
Thunder Plunderer: Alan Anderson, 27 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Next game: @ the Washington Wizards on Jan. 7 at 6PM CDT
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