What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Relief. Tonight, you could see just how much of a key player Andrea Bargnani was to Toronto's offense. If he's not in the post, creating points, he's setting picks at the top of the key or making decisions on who to pass the ball to. When you take away both that amount of scoring and decision making ability in the middle of the game, your team is doomed to fail.
After the first half, Bargnani was permanently benched for "tightness" in his left calf. With the Raptors out of the playoff race, I can see them wanting to be cautious. But the move pretty much doomed the Raptors to failure. There would be a point where their offense churned to a halt and they needed someone to force points, but that person just wouldn't be there. That point came, and the Thunder went on a 24-0 run. Literally. The Raptors worked deep into the shot clock, turning the ball over four times and firing up bad jumpers. Literally only one or two shots were taken in the paint during this stretch. Meanwhile, the Thunder finally started hitting threes, getting out in transition, and driving into the paint.
What was tonight's turning point?
The aforementioned run. The Raptors technically still had a shot at it down 25 with 9:36 to go, but a run like that is just too demoralizing to overcome.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
Defense. The Thunder have had problems on defense lately, especially in the paint. But they completely shut down the Raptors during certain periods of this game. The Raptors didn't score for the first two minutes, had only one field goal from 8:52-2:41 in the second quarter, and were held scoreless for 9 minutes during the third and fourth quarters. They had spurts of success, but by and large they were offensively decimated. Some of that had to do with them missing open shots, but even if they had made the few open looks they were given, the Thunder would have still blown them out.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Every Thunder bench player was in the positive of +/- tonight, while Durant was the only positive player on offense. Cook was huge in making a layup and knocking down a three at the end of the third, and Harden just went crazy in the fourth, scoring 12. Heck, even Derek Fisher was able to contribute, hitting threes and getting to the line (WHAT?!). Not to be forgotten is Nick Collison, who set up a few of Harden's scores and grabbed a whopping 7 offensive rebounds, three of which led to baskets.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz tonight so the game keeps the Thunder in lockstep with them for the Western Conference lead, though they technically hold the lead via their season series win. The Thunder get their next shot at hopefully recovering the lead tomorrow against the Milwaukee Bucks, who are in the Eastern Conference Playoff hunt. The Spurs, meanwhile, will be facing the Jazz again, this time on the road.
Otherwise, what we saw tonight confirmed some fears. Our offense can stagnate, badly. Westbrook has to be relied upon every night, because Ibaka, Perkins, and Sefolosha have proven that they can't handle any sort of offensive load on a consistent basis, especially if they have to create for themselves. Perk shoots beyond his abilities, Ibaka misses too many mid-range shots, and Sefolosha isn't quick enough to drive the ball. It's hard to see an easy solution, because Harden works well with Collison, and I'd hate to see Derek Fisher have to ballhandle for our second unit. Cook? He's just as limited as Sefolosha, and presents a defensive liability next to Durant. Fisher? Mohammed? Neither of them can bring enough to the table. When you get right down to it, the Thunder either need to make some personnel moves, or get Ibaka, Sefolosha, and Perkins back on the offensive path. There's a variety of factors in play, but I'd like to see a couple more plays drawn up for them, if for no other reason than to take the pressure off of Westbrook and guarantee him some points. Anyway, that's just my two cents. But it's something to think about as we head towards the playoffs.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, for keeping the Thunder in the game during rough patches by getting to the line.
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, for sealing the game in the fourth.
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, with his second bad shooting night in a row.
Thunder Plunderer: Jose Calderon, 19 Points, 6 Assists. Pretty much the only reason the Raptors scored at all tonight.
Next Game: At the Milwaukee Bucks, Monday, April 9th, 7 PM Central Daylight Time