Heading into Sunday afternoon's affair with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Toronto Raptors knew they were going to be in tough against one of the league's best teams and, despite a promising first half, things turned out just about how one might have imagined.
Right from the outset of the game, Thabo Sefolosha and the rest of the Oklahoma City defense keyed in the Raptors' leading scorer DeMar DeRozan. The Thunder harassed DeRozan into a 3-for-8 start from the floor that would eventually become a 4-of-16 shooting night by the time the game concluded.
DeRozan's backcourt mate Jose Calderon also struggled, hitting just one of his first five shot attempts.
The Raptors did recover to close the first, decreasing the deficit to just five points. The second frame though, represented the high point of the game for Toronto as Alan Anderson went off for 19 of his career-high 27 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Anderson's huge second quarter surge would bring the Raptors to within two points at the half. But, in the third the Thunder reasserted their dominance thanks in large part to Russell Westbrook's 12 points in the quarter --the majority of which were scored against the defensively challenged Jose Calderon. Not going to Kyle Lowry earlier in the quarter may have been the most costly mistakes that Dwane Casey made on the night.
The Thunder would go on to win 104-92 and although they got huge contributions from their big three -- Durant finished with 22 points, Westbrook with 23 and Ibaka with 19 -- it was the team's defense that made the biggest difference, particularly the way they handled DeRozan all game long and Anderson in the second half.
"I think activity and accepting the challenge," Thabo Sefolosha said about stopping DeRozan. "He's a player who likes to slash, goes the basket and crash the rebounds. So, you try to take those easy points close to the basket away from him."
Anderson's explosion in the first half was a big reason why the Raptors were able to get back into the game. In the second half, however, the Thunder made some adjustments and severely limited his effect on the game.
"It was just adjusting, getting back on defense and talking a bit more," Sefolosha said. "He had some easy open looks [in the first half] but we could have done a better job of getting back on defense and closing out more."
For the Raptors, their biggest challenge defensively was attempting to stop one of the best scorers in the league in Kevin Durant.
"Just to be there on the catch and try and make every shot they take difficult," Anderson said. "You're not gonna just stop a Durant from scoring because he is the best scorer in the league, if u ask me,"
"You can just make all his shots tough. An easy shot will get you going versus a tougher shot if you make it. In the first half we did an okay job of making their shots tough and we made shots ourselves. But, like I said, it aint' about who is making the most baskets, it's about who gets the most stops. In the second half, they got a lot more stops than we did."
Despite the loss, it is hard to ignore the contributions that Alan Anderson has made to this team. Anderson is a guy who has gone from bouncing around various minor and professional leagues to putting up 19 points in a quarter against some of the best basketball players in the world. The quality of his play was not lost on Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.
"He was good, you know. He made four threes [I think] in that first half," Brooks said. "He was automatic in his midrange game and his drive, he made a couple of layups,"
"He is a good player. I give him a lot of credit because he has been throughout the league in his short career. But I think he has found a home and he has taken advantage of it. 19 points in the first half was a big part of their game in that first half."
Anderson's career-high 27 points stands as another career affirming moment for the 6'6 swingman. It's uncertain whether or not he will remain with the Raptors past this season, but it is a safe bet that he will remain in the NBA.
- Terrence Ross left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained left ankle. There is no timetable yet for his return.
- Linas Kleiza (knee) Andrea Bargnani (elbow), Aaron Gray (flu) and Jonas Valanciunas (hand) all sat out Sunday's game.
- The Raptors will have two days off before taking in the Philadelphia 76ers at home on Wednesday night.