The last time the Toronto Raptors played the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was not pretty. Fresh off a stinker in Dallas, the Raptors fell 124-107 in Oklahoma City to the team led by the OK3 of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.
Things are a little different this time around. Fresh off less of a stinker in Toronto, an overtime win also against Dallas, the Raptors ride an eleven-game winning streak into Sunday’s action. The Thunder meanwhile storm into town on a string of five consecutive victories.
One might write that the Thunder are firmly planted in fourth in the Western Conference, but they’re not. In a wild, wild West, the Thunder are 1.5 games back of third-place Portland and two games ahead of eighth-place San Antonio. Never thought I’d write “eighth-place San Antonio” but here we are.
On the Raptors’ front, look to see Serge Ibaka trying his best to make a point. When asked about the culture reset in Toronto, Ibaka told Zach Lowe that the attitude around the team has been positive and encouraging, unlike “before”. Could he be talking about his time with the Thunder? Maybe! So, look out, world — here Serge comes!
Here are the rest of the details for this afternoon’s game. Hope you like early starts!
Where to Watch
TSN 1, 3, and 4 at 1pm EST
Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Thunder - Russell Westbrook, Corey Brewer, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams
Raptors: Norman Powell (ankle - day-to-day)
Thunder: Andre Roberson
Big Man Battle
JV always comes to play when matched up with the big, bruising centres of the league. Sunday is hopefully no different. In this edition of small yet recent sample size, Valanciunas is averaging 21 points and 14.3 rebounds in his last three games. As the Thunder’s X-factor, now that Roberson is out and can’t claim that title, Adams will be plenty for Valanciunas to handle but he’s been up to the task of late. Can he continue that run?
Note: Westbrook and JV got into it last time, too, so there’s more for JV to play for.
Limit the O-Boards (And Maybe Grab Some)
This is definitely an extension of hoping JV shows up, but the Thunder do rank first in the league in offensive rebound percentage, per Cleaning the Glass. They grab 30.6 percent of their own misses.
And this has been a problem at times for the Raptors this season — they’re bottom 10 in the league in percentage of opponent misses rebounded by the opponent (tied with OKC!). This problem was a factor during the last two-game stretch against Dallas and OKC in December, so here’s hoping the game plan accounts for that this time around.
But with OKC ranking similarly in this defensive statistic, maybe the Raps can grab a few offensive boards of their own. As Russell Westbrook likes to say: #WHYNOT.
Control the Pace
Oklahoma City forces turnovers, leading the league in turnover rate forced (also per Cleaning the Glass). As a top five defensive team in the league, the Raptors have done a great job limiting points scored in transition off turnovers.
Cliches are always fun, so let’s use some.
Play your game. The Thunder are good, active, and athletic defensive team (better with Roberson — they've slipped a little there since he’s gone out). Here’s another cliche. Be smart with the ball. The Raptors are the better basketball team, so if they do what they’ve been doing all season long, they can limit the star power of this Thunder team.