Boy, we needed this one! After the Thunder had gotten off to a 1-2 start and struggled against the Trail Blazers, the fans were itching for a reason to cheer again. A blowout win over the improved Raptors is a testament to how good the Thunder still can be.
Of course, you could rain on our parade by rightly pointing out that Kyle Lowry sprained his ankle in the second quarter. That might be true, but by the time Lowry went down, the Thunder had already opened up a huge lead and had all of the momentum. Additionally, Westbrook had make Lowry a non-factor on offense, and he was mostly relegated to distribution. (All the best to him in his recovery, seeing his year end like this would be a total bummer.)
But the Raptors problems didn't center around Kyle Lowry, though he was a good part of them. Rather, the Raptors were having some pretty abysmal defensive failures that killed them in the long run. On three separate occasions during the first, they left Thabo Sefolosha wide open in the corner and he capitalized. Ibaka was able to take full advantage of the weak defense of Andrea Bargnani for 6 points. Westbrook and Durant did their usual thing, and were both able to add a dunk. Overall, the Raptors were out-rebounded in the first, 11-8.
During the second, the Thunder basically padded their lead by making the game a free throw shooting contest. The pace of the game was really sluggish, but the refs were calling ticky-tack fouls all night, and the Thunder are experts at getting to the line. After what seemed like an eternal toil, the game broke open when Kyle Lowry committed a technical foul. After a nailed Martin free throw, Perk pump-faked and hit a jumper from the top of the key. The Raptors turned the ball over on the next possession, allowing Kevin Martin to get a fast-break layup and essentially seal the game. The momentum continued into the third, where the Thunder quickly attacked the paint, went up by 20, and never looked back.
On the offensive end of the floor, the Raptors really didn't have a lot going for them. Kyle Lowry was basically shut down by Westbrook and went down with an ankle injury, while Sefolosha was able to keep Demar Derozan to a meek 2-10 shooting. Landry Fields continued to be unnoticable on the court, leaving Andrea Bargnani to provide the offensive spark. He was decent enough early on, but the defensive pressure eventually got to him and he went into a slump. With nobody on the bench really able to help share the offensive load, the Raptors collapsed quickly. Jonas Valanciunas might look like he had a good statline, but he only had scored two by the time the Thunder had gone on their second quarter push, so his effort was too little too late.
But if I had to boil down this win to one reason, I'd have to pinpoint the Raptors' lack of a defensive stopper. Yeah, there were plays where the team was just utterly baffled at the Thunder's willingness to pass (like Sefolosha's open jumpers), but when I saw Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and even Perkins out there, it just didn't look like the Raptors had a challenge for them. The talent is there, but it just didn't mesh well under these circumstances, and even in other matchups, they always have to make up for a defensive hole with some amazing offensive plays.
On the Thunder's end, I'd love to see them ride this wave of momentum throughout their home-heavy first month of the season. Both Durant and Westbrook shook off their problems. Westbrook was able to keep a solid head defensively, while Durant was able to function as more of a scorer on the floor.
And I can't close this recap without mentioning how some of the Thunder's bench guys did in limited minutes. Jeremy Lamb was pretty much a ballhog, taking some extremely deep threes and clanking them badly. DeAndre Liggins showed as much hustle as ever, while Perry Jones was a bit listless. Hasheem Thabeet was basically there to try to grab alley-oops from Reggie Jackson, mostly resulting in fouls. All in all, it was fun to see them get time after half of the crowd had filed out.
Oh, and I'm totally tired from the election/school/gameday too, though I'm not nearly classy enough to be sipping on some high-end whiskey like J.A. I'm eating day-old Little Ceasars. Desperate times....make for somewhat lower quality recaps. I bet some random Raptors fan will remind me while espousing the merits of Terrence Ross. Ah well, I'll take a mulligan on this one. Durant/Westbrook 2016!
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, for a nearly flawless night
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, for a solid performance
Thunder Blunder: Jeremy Lamb, bricking some way too long threes
Thunder Plunderer: Dominic McGuire?
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