The Oklahoma City Thunder have hit their toughest stretch of games at the end of the regular season, starting with the Eastern Conference’s best Toronto Raptors. In a playoff atmosphere battle in which two high-octane offenses went back and forth for 48 minutes, the Thunder edged out a huge 132-125 victory over the Raptors on Sunday afternoon, behind Russell Westbrook’s 5th triple-double in a row and 23rd of the season. The victory snapped an 11-game winning streak for the Raptors and extended the Thunder’s current streak to 6.
It was a track meet from the opening tip as both teams came out firing on all cylinders. The Thunder attack started inside, getting Steven Adams easy looks and 14 points in the first quarter. When the Raptors adjusted, the perimeter opened for Carmelo Anthony and Corey Brewer to knock down treys with Westbrook masterfully getting all of his teammates involved. The Raptors matched the Thunder every step of the way, moving the ball and hitting one contested shot after another. The Thunder and Raptors both shot 60% from the field in the quarter, but The Thunder led the Raptors 40-34 after the first.
According to the numbers, the Raptors have the best bench in the NBA and showed exactly why in the second quarter. C.J. Miles nailed a three and Norman Powell made a driving lay-up plus the foul to tie the game and touch off a 20-4 Raptor run that gave the Raptors a ten point lead halfway through the second quarter. The Thunder starters returned and responded with a 22 to 10 run capped off with a 20-ft step back jumper from PG with 1.2 seconds remaining to give the Thunder a 2-point halftime lead.
The second half saw less big runs and more back-and-forth basketball, the fourth quarter baring an eerie resemblance to the 15th round slug-fest from Rocky II.
Billed as the key match-up this weekend, the game, which featured 20 ties and 25 lead changes, exceeded all expectations as both team’s offenses were exceptional. The teams combined for 65 points in the third quarter and the Raptors led 98-97 after three-quarters.
The Thunder’s bench, after being pummeled in the 1st half, started the 4th quarter and wasted no time redeeming themselves. Alex Abrines nailed 2 threes, Raymond Felton scored 5 points, Jerami Grant got a big dunk, and Patrick Patterson made some great passes and got a dunk of his own. The reserves turned a one-point deficit into a 5-point lead before turning the game back over to the Thunder starters for the dramatic finish with a 110-108 lead with 7:15 remaining.
After re-entering the game, Russell Westbrook immediately went into 2016/17 MVP mode, taking advantage of his match-ups against Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright and scoring six straight points to keep the Thunder’s lead at two, 116-114. Lowry benefited from a questionable shooting foul call in which he clearly had not started his shooting motion and made all three to give the Raptors a one-point lead. Westbrook responded on the next possession when his floater fell short. But in true Westbrook fashion, stayed with the play and grabbed two offensive rebounds before putting it in. Miles responded with a dunk off a pretty pass from Lowry.
One of the key moments coming down the stretch happened with 3:18 remaining and the score knotted up at 119 apiece. Kyle Lowry, already burdened with 5 fouls, committed his 6th on a silly, and obvious, moving screen, 30 feet from the basket. Westbrook immediately capitalized on Lowry’s ejection and scored four unanswered points to give the Thunder a 123-119 lead with 2:18 remaining, but the Raptors haven’t amassed the best home record in the NBA by quitting. Within 30 seconds, both Wright and DeRozan were able to get to the line and coolly dropped all 4 of their attempts to tie the game 123-123.
After the Thunder traded 2 Paul George free throws for a Wright lay-up, the score was again knotted at 125 apiece with under a minute remaining, but Westbrook, who finished with 17 points in the quarter, would not be denied and gave the Thunder the lead on a driving lay-up just seconds later.
That is when things turned ugly.
DeRozan got to the paint just seconds after Westbrook scored and missed the lay-up. and thought he was fouled:
It is tough to make a case for DeRozan when Ibaka got away with this on Westbrook’s previous drive:
Little hard to justify whistling one defender for a touch call when another defender on the other end just body fouled his opponent hard enough to change his body’s direction in flight.
After DeRozan missed the lay-up, Westbrook made it a two-possession game on a bank shot on the Thunder’s next possession to give OKC a 129-125 lead with 12.3 seconds remaining. That is a lot of time by NBA standards, but after the timeout, Carmelo Anthony tipped the Raptor’s inbound pass, Corey Brewer pounced on the loose ball, the Thunder called timeout, and the Raptors completely lost their composure. During the Thunder timeout, DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, and Coach Dwane Casey were all ejected for excessive complaining to the referees and Paul George put the game away and sealed the victory at the free throw line.
The Thunder shot 55% from the field and hit 10 of their 21 three-point attempts on the night. They also won the rebound battle (39-31) and points in the paint (56-52). The Thunder defense grabbed 11 steals and forced 19 Raptors turnovers. Eleven 1st half turnovers and ten missed free throws were the Thunder’s most noticeable blemishes on the box score.
Westbrook was terrific tonight, leading the Thunder with 37 points (15-of-22 from the field, 17 points in the 4th), 13 rebounds, and 14 assists. Adams’ 14 first quarter points were a career high and he finished the game with 25 pts on 10-of-13 shooting, and 8 rebounds. George played through foul trouble but still finished with 22 points. Melo scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 3-of-4 from three. Brewer also chipped in 10 points. The Thunder bench scored 23 points on the night.
DeRozan led the Raptors with 24 points and 5 assists. Lowry finished with 22 points and 10 assists before fouling out. The Raptors also had three bench players in double digits, Pascal Siakam with 10, Delon Wright with 15, and CJ Miles with 15.
The Thunder return to action on Tuesday night, with another tough road test against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are 2nd in the Eastern Conference and own a 101-94 win against the Thunder back on November 3rd.