Sometimes, an amazing performance from one player can carry a team. But most of the time, it can't. Despite the fantastic 19 point second quarter of Alan Anderson and the good first half from Amir Johnson, the rest of the Raptors were a slow dud. The second half was basically watching them slowly lose grip on the game, aside from a meaningless garbage time run.
The problem for the Raptors tonight definitely wasn't defense. They played excellent perimeter D, effectively used the fast pace of the game, forced an adequate amount of turnovers, and allowed few open shots. Their offense was another story. For a team that's second best in the league when it comes to lack of turnovers, they certainly gave up the ball a lot, especially in the back court.
But, you could give the Rockets the benefit of the doubt. With Bargnani, Gray, Kleiza, and Valanciunas all out, they were basically forced to play small most of the night. Nick Collison definitely reaped the rewards of this circumstance while Toronto's bench was on the floor, as he's always been adept at scoring over smaller guys in the post. Ibaka took full advantage too, since the Raptors double-teamed other players in the post all too often. The Raptors lack of size also hurt them on the offensive rebounding front.
Individually, DeMar DeRozan had a terrible game. Even though he's largely admired for his consistent offense, he couldn't get a decent shot off. He was constantly firing up long jumpers or getting mobbed in the lane, and he wasn't even getting double-teamed most of the time.
The only OKC player who saw any sort of struggle was Russell Westbrook. Matched up against the equally big Jose Calderon and forced to play a half-court game, it definitely wasn't the type of ball he normally flourishes in. But given his circumstances, I'd say that he performed admirably. He kept the offense moving, was in position off-ball, and, as always, was valuable in transition. As long as there aren't any blown open layups, I'm good.
Another thing I might point out about tonight's game is that the Raptors really don't have such a thing as "starters" and "bench". It's more like "Team A" and "Team B". In other words, the Thunder allowed a huge run in the second not because of any inherent weakness, but moreso because Alan Anderson and Kyle Lowry were playing against the Thunder bench, rather than Mickael Pietrus and Jose Calderon. It's a wily move by Dwayne Casey, and one that allowed his team to take a five point lead in the second quarter.
An ongoing trend with Kevin Durant since his ejection against Brooklyn has been an increased tendency to yap with the referees. His frustration in that game was understandable, as he had to go toe-to-toe with one of the NBA's best defenders in Gerald Wallace and only went to the line twice. But it's clear that he's had it out for the refs since, constantly discussing calls and campaigning for his team. I doubt that Durant will turn into the next Rasheed Wallace, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on, and definitely cool that he's exerting passion.
Anyway, the Thunder sweep the season series and hopefully keep the Raptors in the lottery. They see the Washington Wizards tomorrow, and approach the half-way point of the season. Keep it real!
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, the yapper.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, the crafty one.
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, who fouled too much despite some solid defense.
Thunder Plunderer: Alan Anderson, one of the best players you probably don't know that well.
Next Game: At the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, January 9th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
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