I hope everyone's enjoying their Christmas! This article is a bit late and short, but I thought we should get at least something about the Raptor loss out there for everyone to see.
1. Bad Transition Defense
Simple, but true. The Thunder aren't particularly good about defensively communicating against fast-break heavy teams. The Raptors aren't fast break-heavy, but they managed to sneak in so many points because there simply weren't enough Thunder players ready to defend them. Part of the reason is obviously hustle (which the Thunder were lacking after playing a back-to-back against the Spurs), but part of the reason is also the Thunder's offense, which often lends itself to players torpedoing themselves into the post.
2. Strange Rotations
Scott Brooks' rotations during the fourth quarter were mediocre, at best. He went small with Durant and Collison/Ibaka, while the Raptors went big with Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. It's not like Johnson and Valanciunas were getting a ton of easy buckets near the rim, but the Thunder did give up 5 offensive rebounds in the final quarter.
It was clear the Brooks wanted to put shooters into the game as a direct response to the Raptors commitment to protecting the rim on defense. He threw in Fisher and Lamb for long stretches despite neither of them having a particularly good game, and both of them missed a three. He also threw in Jones during a critical stretch, presumably after he had a nice 3-3 shooting start to the game. The only problem was that Jones hadn't seen significant time on the floor since the mid-2nd quarter, and was completely ignored by the Raptors on the offensive end, for good reason.
Meanwhile, the Thunder didn't go to their patented three point guard lineup until the final seconds, sticking in Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones at small forward while Fisher and Jackson spent time at shooting guard. With the other lineup having seen so much success, it's really puzzling as to why Brooks would try to work in Lamb and his 11th man. At the end of the day, the rotations put in by Brooks made you think that he was unwilling to make a commitment to either a fast or traditional lineup, and that seemed to be his downfall.
3. Too Much Movement on the Raptor Offense
During the game, I saw the Raptors run HORNS approximately a million billion times. But they weren't just running simple HORNS plays, as almost every play they ran (HORNS or otherwise) involved every single player on the floor moving. The Thunder don't really adjust their defense well, especially against teams that are great at moving the ball and spacing the floor. This is mostly because they never really need to. Very few European-style off-ball movement offenses exist in the NBA, and those that do generally exist on lower-caliber teams that the Thunder don't need to worry about. But the Raptors always managed to confuse the trap and switch-heavy Thunder and get lots of great shot attempts. Appropriately, the Raptors have performed admirably against other trap-heavy teams, like Miami and Dallas. This line of reasoning, perhaps, is the most irking thing about the loss. It wasn't a superstar that pulled the Raps through, it was simply a great display of teamwork.
4. The Raptors Zone Defense
Okay, so the Raptors weren't really running the traditional zone that you might see at a high school or college level. But they were packing the paint and playing really awesome help defense. Almost every time a Thunder player entered the lane, there were at least two Raptors ready to meet them before they got to the rim. On a night where the Thunder were shooting poorly, this really came back to bite them.
This is a problem that plagues the Thunder in virtually every game they play. Kendrick Perkins sets a screen too hard, Westbrook throws an errant pass in transition, Ibaka drops a ball in the post, Durant loses the ball in a double team, et cetera. Sunday night wasn't really any different, so it turned out to be a factor in the loss. Still, if you want to get into specifics, Westbrook threw a pass to no one and dropped an easy rebound during the fourth, despite playing an excellent offensive game otherwise.
6. Missed Open Shots
Nothing to say about this one, other than noting that any night where KD misses back to back wide-open threes pretty clearly indicates that the Thunder are off of their game.
You know that saying that underdog coaches love to give their teams? "Nine out of ten times, we can beat these guys." Here, the old adage holds true. Even though this was easily the Thunder's worst loss of the season, there's not too much to read into it. The Raptors probably aren't going to wow us with a meteoric rise, and we're not going to find out that the Thunder had their talents stolen away by aliens before the game. It was just one bad night.
If you're still down about the loss, remember this: Even Jordan's 95-96' Bulls, the team with the greatest regular season record of all time at 72-10, managed to lose a single game against the expansion Toronto Raptors. The Raptors only played 7 men on that night, and featured a bunch of nobodies. So really, bad losses happen to good teams, and as long as this trend doesn't continue, it will mean nothing come playoff time.
What do you think about Sunday's loss? Let us know in the comments!