The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the East-leading Toronto Raptors at home, 124-107. In the Thunder’s 6th consecutive win, Paul George led all scorers with 33 points on 11-17 shooting, including 7-10 from 3-point range. Russell Westbrook continued his high level of play by finishing with 30 points, 13 assists, and 8 rebounds (against 7 turnovers), making it the first time this season OKC has had 2 players break the 30 point barrier in the same game. The Raptors were led by C.J. Miles, who finished with 20 points, with all 6 makes coming from behind the arc.
The Raptors, playing on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, were looking to display to the West that they are for real and make up for a poor showing in Dallas the night before. In the early going, that’s what they did, running out to a 38-32 1st quarter lead, a stunning turn of events after OKC had jumped them out of the gates, quickly going up 16-4. Toronto showed their shotmaking ability by going on a 17-5 run over the final 2:50 of the quarter, leaving us to wonder if the Thunder defense had finally had some holes poked into it.
Fortunately, OKC was up to the challenge.
After that rough start, the Thunder responded by outscoring the Raptors 92-69 over the final 3 quarters, with the OKC defense waking up and hounding them to 36% shooting from the floor and a humbling 6-27 from beyond the arc over those final 3 frames. Along with it, the Thunder shot 50% from the floor themselves, got to the free throw line 29 times, smashed them on the boards 44-26, and most importantly, neutralized Toronto’s vaunted backcourt. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who ordinarily combine for 43 points per game, finished those quarters shooting a combined 3-20, 1-8 from three, and were visibly frustrated as the game wound down. Once again, the perimeter defensive attack of George, Andre Roberson, Westbrook, and Steven Adams anchoring the back line took away virtually every avenue the two guards sought out, and were mostly left with contested shots wherever they took them.
The end result was a 2nd half where the weary Raptors wore down as the Thunder defense tightened its grip on their high-scoring offense, while making the Raps’ own defense look like SpaghettiOs. Even former Thunder and fan favorite Serge Ibaka could not provide a spark, finishing with only 7 points and 2 rebounds in 27 minutes (and no finger wags).
Clearly, after searching for the right formula through the first 25 or so games of the season, OKC is finding the mix that is making them not just a functioning team, but one that is gaining confidence, prowess, and where each player elevates the other. Who knew?
- Steven Adams, the “Greatest player in the world” (tm - Chris Grenham) with another ho-hum 16-9 on 8-9 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds, 6 offensive, not to mention 2 blocks and 4 steals. The steals are particularly notable to me because it means that not only is the defensive pressure on the perimeter having its intended effect on other teams, but it is functioning with purpose too, guiding and drawing passes and penetration into the spaces where OKC’s defense wants it to go, leading to another 9 steals on the night.
- You might think that Adams ought to be grabbing at least 10 boards per game still so he must be slacking off, but we’re finally seeing a return to the rebounding style that enabled Westbrook to average double-digits a year ago. But this year, George (8) Westbrook (8) and Andre Roberson (10) are all the beneficiaries. It led to an 18 point advantage and (15-7 ORBs) on the glass, meaning OKC has cleaned up its habit of wasting good defensive efforts by not getting the ball back.
- The roof. The roof. The roof is on fire. Ok, sorry.
CJ Miles is so hot that a small fire started in the rafters pic.twitter.com/QfU2LGmCb7— Jon Hamm (@JonMHamm) December 28, 2017
- Westbrook had another one of those kinds of moments late in the 1st half, the kind where you go, “that’s not fair.”
Russell. Westbrook. Is. Not. A. Human. pic.twitter.com/w1qsNToe83— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) December 28, 2017
But the crazy thing? That wasn’t even the best dunk of the night. Because...
- At 5:44 left in the game, I temporarily lost control over my oratory motor skills. You probably did too.