Before tonight's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was asked whether he thought his team was in the same "elite" conversation as his opponent. He was quick to say no, acknowledging OKC's runs to the Conference and NBA Finals. A few hours later, Casey didn't even need to get all historical with it -- he can just point to tonight's 119-100 loss and say, here, this is what an elite team looks like.
The Raptors got off to another slow start tonight, falling quickly behind the Thunder 15-3, behind a barrage of plays by, guess who, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. DeMar DeRozan was the lone Raptor producing for some time, but even he laboured under the incredibly sharp and tough OKC defense. Life is hard for a perimeter player curling off screens when he's got one of Serge Ibaka or Steven Adams constantly charging out at him. DeRozan managed to finish the game with 19 points, but it took him 22 shots (of which he hit eight). It's also worth noting DeRozan only got to the line three times; the Thunder defense is sharp, tough and disciplined.
The other "star" of the game for the Raptors was Norman Powell. The rookie finished with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting (including four 3s) and four rebounds. Powell was also tasked with guarding Westbrook, which is quite the challenge for any player, let alone one relatively fresh to the NBA. "I thought I did pretty good following the game plan going under on him," said Powell. "Just being phsyical with him in the post, making him take long threes or tough contested twos." That Westbrook went off for another triple-double of 26 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds can hardly be pegged on Powell. The guy really is that good.
It feels like only last week (when he was Player of the Week), we were saying the same thing about Kyle Lowry. But, something is amiss. Lowry finished the game with 14 points on a woeful 4-of-14 shooting. He snagged only two boards, and made moves for a mere four assists. Worse still, as was confirmed after the game, Lowry had his elbow drained and is dealing with some inflammation. Related: the Raptors are much, much less good when Lowry is not peak-Lowry. Elite? Don't even mention the word.
"That team made every big play, every big shot, you have to shake their hand," said Casey. "In a lot of those situations we did make a mistake and they made us pay for it." As a summary of the Raptors experience tonight against OKC, this one works. Despite a brief 31-30 lead in the second quarter, after a satisfying Patrick Patterson 3-ball (shout out to his continued excellence), the Thunder controlled the game the entire way. For every punch, they had the counter; for every break, they could recover. That one moment when it looked like the Raptors might push up some kind of lead was met by a 9-0 Thunder run. Durant, Westbrook and company never looked back.
What did you guys think of the game?