You hate to see a road loss like this one, but no one is surprised after our recent close encounter with the Nets. Continue reading for a full breakdown of the action and reasons as to why the Thunder lost.
In the first, the Thunder had no real trouble scoring, but they were having a mightily hard time defending the other end of the floor. The Raptors were constantly getting open jumpers at the top of the key, no doubt helped by the fact that all of their players can shoot. The Thunder really seemed to focus on forcing turnovers, rather than defending shots.
At 7:50 in the second quarter, the Thunder got some bad news. D.J. White rolled his ankle when coming down from a rebound, and he had trouble putting any weight at all on his ankle. Fortunately, it was only a light ankle sprain, and he should be good to go again on Sunday. The thunder were playing rather small, and James Harden was on a roll, but I couldn't count how many times the Raptors were getting easy baskets inside. The Thunder maintained a 2 or 3 basket advantage most of the time though, and the game flowed rather well. The Thunder almost closed out the quarter with a 9 point lead after a steal and foul gave Westbrook two made freethrows, but the Raptors came right back with a Kleiza jumper. At this point, it seemed like the game would be decided by whomever decided to play defense first.
Below: More Recapping, Why We Lost, Stats, Awards!
In the third, the Raptors took a decisive advantage. The Thunder started to double-team whomever had the ball, attempting to force a turnover. Unfortunately for them, the Raptors were on top of that, and continuously dumped it off to the open man for the easy score. Calderon was especially adept at finding exactly the right point to pass the ball. Additionally, the Raptors were having an easier time getting out in transition. Offensively, it was now the Thunder finding themselves committing turnovers, and Westbrook was having an especially tough time scoring in the post. The Thunder were down by 9 going into the fourth, a sizable hole to get out of.
In the fourth, the Thunder fell behind as much as 13, but they refused to go away. Their main calling card was getting into a transition offense and going straight for the basket, as most of the time they would settle in a half-court set, the paint was locked down, leading to a bad layup attempt or a risky three. The Raptors continued to lead late though, because the Thunder weren't getting any stops defensively. Eventually, the Thunder went back to double-teaming, and the Raptors lead swelled to 16. At that point, Brooks called a timeout and sat Westbrook, Green, and Harden.
And the Thunder actually did BETTER without them! They got the deficit back down to 9 (through 2 steals off of the inbounds), and they actually had a decent shot of getting back into the game with 2 minutes to go. But, while this group was defensively skilled on the perimeter, they had no offensive weapons (the only players who get regular minutes are Maynor and Sefolosha, the two lowest scorers in the rotation) and they simply had no answer for Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors had a late offensive surge of their own, and by the end of the game they had won easily, 111 to 99.
Stat-wise, the Raptors had a lot of scoring support from their role players. Obviously, Bargnani (Thunder Plunderer) was the best, scoring 26, shooting over 50%, and grabbing 12 rebounds. In some ways, his game tonight resembled that of Dirk Nowitzki. And Leandro Barbosa was the scorer off the bench, going for 22 points and scoring consistently throughout the game. In addition to those two, Demar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, and Sonny Weems all scored 10 points or over, and did it at key times throughout the game.
The Thunder, on the other hand, were uncharacteristically struggling to figure out their rotation. Russell Westbrook (Thunder Blunder) tried to be the main scorer with 20 Points and 7 Assists, but he would often find himself running into brick walls in the post, and struggling to get any ball movement going offensively. 5 Turnovers is a terrible number for any player to have. He reminded me a lot of Baron Davis in his Golden State years. It's one thing to force the ball and try to score when you're hot, but when you keep running into the same problems time and time again, maybe it's time to call some different plays.
James Harden (Thunder Wonder) with 20 Points, 4 Rebounds, and 3 Assists, also tried to be a scorer, and had some really efficient numbers when he did play. But he only got 29 minutes, and was a bit of a defensive liability, which is a terrible thing to have when the other team scores in droves.
Jeff Green (Thunder Down Under) played some heavy minutes, but he struggled offensively all night long, only scoring 17 and shooting 35%. He had 4 rebounds and 7 assists, which shows that he was doing a better job of distributing the ball. But when Kevin Durant is out and Russell Westbrook is struggling, Green has to take on more of an offensive role if the team is to win. Still, I do applaud him for helping out rather than forcing the issue when he got cold.
The centers were really a non-factor. Krstic scored 10, Collison had 8, and Ibaka had 9, but all of those points allowed by a weak Raptor defense were canceled out by the open looks they gave to Bargnani.
Thabo Sefolosha was his usual self, scoring only 3 but getting 7 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 6 Steals, and 1 Block. He and Ivey (who had 2 steals) were the only two players who seemed to benefit from the double teams the Thunder were constantly throwing at the Raptors.
Eric Maynor turned in a solid effort, with 8 Points, 2 Rebounds, and an Assist. Mo Pete had some token minutes against his old team and made a basket, D.J. White had 2 Blocks before getting injured, and B.J. Mullens scored a basket at the very end of the game.
I think the bottom line here is that the Thunder's rotation was disrupted by White's injury, and that Westbrook and Green were both having a tough time scoring. The combination of those two factors led to a easy Raptors victory.
We'll see the Raptors again on March 20th at home, and it will be interesting to see where they're at. Can they continue their recent success and become a factor in the East? Or will injuries and inconsistent play hamper them, sticking them in the muddled middle of the East? I'd like to say that they'll continue their success, but only time will tell. I look forward to when we meet again.
Next Game: Versus The Golden State Warriors, Sunday, December 5th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.