The Raptors got smacked around by a young and athletic team, but if you've followed the Raptors the same way we do, it's of little surprise. Losing 119-99 against the Oklahoma City Thunder is nothing to be ashamed of, but goes towards underlining the importance of Chris Bosh.
As a Canadian, you can be forgiven if you had forgotten that there was a basketball game.
After an emotional day of Olympics celebrations following a thrilling match between the US and Canada, if you tuned into CBC to watch the Raptors, it was probably a lot of buzz-kill for your good feelings. It was going to be a tough act to follow, but perhaps that letdown was expected.
The Oklahoma City Thunder certainly lived up to their billing as one of the most exciting young teams to watch.
Bolstered by a core of players that includes one of the best young scorers in the game, the Thunder trampled over the Raptors 119-99. It wasn't pretty as the Thunder kept their offense going for the entire night and dismantled the Raptors in a fashion not unlike how the Atlanta Hawks have done earlier this year. Of course, the Raptors also contributed to their easy win by committing an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers, with 12 of them being Thunder steals. Leading the Thunder in their defensive effort were both Russel Westbrook and Jeff Green who were aggressive and pesky. All throughout the night, the Thunder simply hunted down the Raptors passes and our hometown boys had little chance.
The blame though, was enough to go around. Andrea Bargnani once again was showing one of his weaker rebounding efforts with only two for the night. However, what was of more concern was his lack of assertion on the offensive end. While Chris Bosh is away, I've argued for some players to step up in his absence. One of them has been Hedo Turkoglu, but another should definitely be our big Italian center. Without Bosh operating in the post, Bargnani should be outright demanding the ball whenever he's down low with a smaller defender. In the same way that Bosh sometimes has to call for the ball several times, Bargnani cannot rely on his teammates to simply pass him the ball as he posts up. It's a shame too as he was doing a fairly good job finding mismatches.
On the other side of the ball, the Raptors were simply not fast enough, tall enough, or agile enough to keep up with the Thunder. Defensive assignments were often confused on switches as the Raptors did not communicate often enough and did a fairly poor job of closing off passing and driving lanes. These are not new problems though and it remains to be seen whether the post-All-Star break Raptors can get back to where they were a month ago.
Unfortunately, there's little time for our team to rest.
Tonight is yet another tail-end of a back-to-back that finds our boys in Houston to face the Rockets. The Rockets, having rested from a loss against Utah on Saturday, will be trying to continue to integrate Kevin Martin into their team philosophy. Martin, who scored 32 points and was still -22 for the game, is someone who has burned the Raptors before. And with the Rockets losing to the Raptors at the ACC back in December, there will be some thoughts of payback for the loss.
More importantly for the Raptors, it's time to right the defensive ship. They have only really shown some token defense against the sub .500 teams of late. While Houston is sitting at an even .500, they are also one of the more dangerous clubs to face and have one of the stronger 3-point centric games in the league. This will undoubtedly be a test for the Raptors as they will have to defend the paint and close out of shooters beyond the arc, but there is a silver lining:
At least the Rockets aren't amongst the top athletic teams of the league.
And that just might be enough of a chance for our Raptors.