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Raptors lose late to the Thunder, 132-125; officiating the story

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It was an entertaining game between the Raptors and Thunder for most of the afternoon. Until, with at least one major missed call, it wasn’t.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s unfortunate we have to start here, with acrimony and ejections, and coach Dwane Casey talking about “complaining the right way” about the officials. The Raptors and Thunder played an incredibly entertaining game on Sunday afternoon, with enough plot lines to satisfy a season-long TV show. But because of some calls down the stretch — or at least, because of one major missed call on an obvious Corey Brewer arm slap on DeMar DeRozan — that’s the main story right now.

Anyway, the Raptors lost 132-125 to the Thunder, ending Toronto’s win streak at 11-games. We knew it had to end sometime — but it does indeed suck to watch it end like this.

If there’s solace to take away from the loss, it’s in the effort and spirit the Raptors showed throughout. (I promise this isn’t going to be a treatise on moral victories, guys.) Despite being something of an enigmatic team, the Thunder are stocked with confident players who are fearless in applying their speed and physicality. It’s what made Toronto’s loss to OKC earlier this season so disheartening — they were simply blown off the court back then.

This time, despite an opening quarter in which the Thunder leveraged the Russell Westbrook-Steven Adams pick-and-roll to perfection while shooting 75 percent, Toronto stayed with them. In that opening quarter, the Raptors shot 62 percent from the field (and 67 percent from three) and refused to wilt. (Even though, yes, they really did not have an answer for that Westbrook-Adams pick-and-roll.) Allowing 40 points in the opening frame is bad, but scoring 34 of your own leavens the concern a tad.

As has been the case all year, Toronto’s bench also played up to — and beyond — their opponents. When the Thunder eventually had to rest their starters, and opted (inexplicably) to go with an almost all-bench lineup (Brewer stayed on the floor), the Raps were able to push the advantage. Without the injured Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright stepped in and put in 15 points (on 6-of-8 shooting), to go with eight assists, and two steals. Pascal Siakam, meanwhile, consistently forced the issue on both ends, ruining Carmelo Anthony’s day more than once, while racing out to 10 points on a perfect 5-for-5 day. And C.J. Miles put in 15 points of his own, including a dunk on former Raptor Patrick Patterson that was, damn, too real.

Not to be outdone, Kyle Lowry also had 22 points, on 7-of-10 shooting (including 5-of-7 from three), plus ten assists. Unfortunately, his day came to an early end after picking up his sixth foul with just over three minutes left. It fell to DeRozan to act as the offensive fulcrum down the stretch, which worked in part, with Paul George once again making things difficult. DeRozan only had two points in the fourth, and the rest of his 24 points came in a hard-earned 8-of-18 performance. He did hit three 3s (on six attempts) and dish off five assists though. Save a costly turnover while in a sprint with Brewer, DeRozan more often than not made the right play, and responded to the pressure.

DeRozan also responded angrily to the major missed call. With the Thunder up two with 30 seconds left, DeRozan’s drive to the basket was “stopped” by Brewer with a clear smack on the arm. There was no call by the refs, which was followed by a Westbrook jumper, a technical on DeRozan, a Raptors turnover, and another technical on DeRozan for the ejection. Serge Ibaka, who missed his last nine shots and probably did more harm than good in this one, was subsequently ejected; as was Dwane Casey, for good measure. Afterwards DeRozan was clear in his assessment: “He smacked the shit out of me. He smacked me. He tried to smack me because I had a layup. Period. I got fouled.”

Of course, yes, now, despite the stretches of inspired play, despite the entertaining nature of this game, despite random things like Lucas Nogueira coming in for six minutes to put up five points and five boards out of nowhere, we have to talk about the officials. It never feels good for the officiating to be the story of the game. It just doesn’t. And it has to feel less good to play as hard as both teams did tonight — with, by the by, Westbrook going for a 37-point triple-double, and Steven Adams surviving a serious knee to the groin from Ibaka for a 25-and-8 afternoon — to end up here, griping about the referees.

So we won’t. Both teams took leads in this one, and were content to go shot-for-shot throughout. It was the kind of game the Raptors needed, both for how they raised their game to respond, and as a reminder as to where they are, and where they hope to go. “That’s what we’re going to see in the playoffs,” confirmed Casey. “That type of speed, that type of physicality.”

Casey wasn’t going to be goaded into answering any questions about the referees, or let his team off the hook either. He’s right to say the Raptors can’t lose their composure like that, can’t let everything hinge on one play in a long and wild game. He’s also right that this one loss wasn’t a make or break game for the season — even if it feels that way right now.

The Raptors were not going to win every game for the rest of their regular season run. There were always going to be more losses coming. This one is hard to swallow, sure, but it also happens. Get mad for a bit, take a deep breath, and let’s collectively move on to the next one. That’s what the truly great teams do too.