Toronto’s match-up with the Thunder on Wednesday had all the telltale red flags you associate with a schedule loss. Second night of back-to-back, against a fringe contender rounding into the form, on the tails of a weekend full of Raptors hype and DeMar DeRozan Player of the Week honours — all those factors were pointing towards a disappointing outing and the Thunder winning 121-107.
Jokes about the Thunder have been one of the most enjoyable parts of early season NBA internet, but they’re becoming increasingly misplace. This team is evolving into the scary group most people expected it would be when Sam Presti won the summer. Against a team like OKC, you need to conjure pushes to counteract their inevitable spurts of three-pronged greatness. Having already played last night in Dallas, the Raptors were fresh out of pushback.
Toronto was running uphill from the second minute of the game. A ragged and motionless offensive start fed into the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook-led attack. Oklahoma City was up 10-2 in under 120 seconds.
A Dwane Casey timeout sparked Toronto’s first wave of resistance. Jonas Valanciunas served as a can’t-miss target on the dive — he finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, the highest total of any of the Raptors’ starters. Toronto’s mid-quarter water-treading morphed into a bench onslaught once the reserves subbed in alongside DeMar DeRozan. CJ Miles fired a three seemingly every time he touched the ball. Pascal Siakam had one of those stretches where his motor alone gives the Raptors an edge. Toronto finished the quarter on a 15-0 run, capped off by this totally intentional Miles three:
The Raptors’ bench push carried over into the second. One of Delon Wright’s slinking and sliding drives for an and-1 put the Raptors up 46-34.
Then Russell Westbrook reentered. He did some stuff — including a ferocious put-back jam and a temper-tantrum that somehow resulted in off-setting techs with Valanciunas — and helped retrieve the lead back for OKC. By the first half’s final buzzer Westbrook had 24 points, six boards and six assists. Toronto mostly just had a bunch of Miles threes, and an evaporated lead they wouldn’t get back again.
During the Raptors’ bountiful December, the starting five has been unstoppable on offense and surprisingly stout on the other end. That wasn’t the case to start the third quarter on Wednesday. OKC opened the frame with a 7-0 run to extend its lead to 10, and the game felt dangerously close to slipping away from the Raptors entirely.
Naturally, another strike back followed. Lowry ended the run with just his second bucket of the night (he finished just 3-of-10 for 13 points and 10 assists), and Casey’s early swap-out of OG Anunoby and Valanciunas for Miles and Jakob Poeltl helped stave off the seemingly inevitable Thunder runaway for at least a few more minutes. It’s hard for Miles to beef up his threes attempted per-36 number these days; with 12 attempts, six makes and 20 points in 22 minutes, Miles will see an uptick in his numbers across the board.
Not so for essentially every other Raptor. DeRozan finished 4-of-16, Ibaka had just seven points, Norman Powell’s prolonged slump continued with a 1-of-6 night, and Valanciunas’ single defensive rebound helped the Thunder rack up 15 offensive boards over the course of the game. With so many down nights, it’s no real shocker that Toronto’s third-quarter run was the last it could muster. Six points was as close as the Raptors could claw. From the 5:52 mark of the third, OKC’s lead almost exclusively expanded. A really dumb Raymond Felton three as the shot clock expired put the Thunder up 102-88 in the dying seconds of the third.
After that shot dropped, garbage time is all there is to talk about.
This will feel like as catastrophic a loss as the Raptors have suffered in over a month. Consecutive Ls sting, particularly after so much hooplah over how disrespected and “actually good” this team is that went on over Christmas weekend. Avoidable and/or irritating as they may have been, two straight losses don’t wipe out more than month of near-flawless basketball by the Raps.
And if you’re concerned that this mini dry spell might spiral into a slide similar to the one that derailed 2016/17’s rip-roaring start, rest easy — the Raptors play the Hawks on Friday.