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Five Thoughts on Yesterday Afternoon: Thunder 132, Raptors 125

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Oklahoma City ends Toronto’s win streak as the Thunder take down the Raptors 132-125. We have five thoughts on a fun, but ultimately frustrating, game. 

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

An inability to close defensive possessions once again hurt the Toronto Raptors yesterday, as the Oklahoma City Thunder came into the ACC, put a lock on the paint and slammed the door on the Raptors’ 11-game win streak.

A Good Game With An Early Sunday Start?

It’s true! Both teams had a hot start and maintained it throughout the contest, giving us one of the more entertaining games of the year. (Well, until the last two minutes, anyway.) Certainly it was more than you’d expect from a Sunday afternoon game, especially the one right after St. Patrick’s Day.

Part of me was hoping for a “White Vegas” turn from our fine city last night, but perhaps our old friend Patrick Patterson warned his teammates off of the nightlife! Even though the streak was stopped, fans got their money’s worth: both teams shot better than 55%, and combined to shoot 25-of-51 from 3-point range; both teams moved the ball well (27 assists for OKC, 31 for Toronto); Russell Westbrook filled up a stat sheet as he usually does; and Toronto’s all-star backcourt did its part, combining for 46 on 15-of-28 shooting. If you blinked, you missed some great basketball.

OKC’s 1-5 Pick-and-Roll Dominated

If you’re looking for a Jakob Poeltl ceiling, look no further than Steven Adams. He has virtually no range, but he’s super-crafty around the hoop, knows how to get into his spots, has great hands and a soft touch. He even has a little push shot that works from 12-14 feet. You could use all of those to describe Poeltl too, the main differences being experience, confidence, and about 40 pounds of muscle.

The Thunder used every bit of Adams they could yesterday, repeatedly running pick-and-rolls with him and Westbrook. Westbrook’s speed getting around Adams’ screens kept Toronto scrambling, and Adams took advantage; he started 7-of-7, finished 10-of-13 (for 25 points) with all but two of his makes either layups or dunks.

Westbrook, obviously, benefitted as well, using the screens to get into the lane and cause havoc; he too, had eight layups/dunks and finished 15-of-22.

At one point I wrote down in my notes “Raptors should go under Adams screens on Westbrook”, as Russ isn’t much of a 3-point shooter (28%); they finally did in the 4th, but Russ used it gain space to work his back-to-the-basket game, and did shoot and make one long three.

Basically, the Raptors had no answer for Westbrook and Adams, and that was your difference.

The Rebounds, my God, the Rebounds

The raw numbers weren’t as bad as the last time these two teams played (the Thunder owned a 52-34 rebounding advantage on December 27), but OKC still out rebounded Toronto by eight and had a 14-8 offensive rebounding advantage. It hurt the Raptors big time; it’s absolutely deflating to play 20 seconds of great D, only to throw it away, or to help your teammate out and change a shot, only to see no one helping you out on the glass, you know?

Overall, all night, the size and physicality of the Thunder’s starting lineup hurt Toronto; Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were able to carve out space and get their shots, and Adams and Westbrook, as noted, were just unstoppable in the paint.

Jonas Valanciunas, tasked with keeping Adams off the glass (and largely failing), only finished with two rebounds. One one fourth quarter play, Russell Westbrook himself had three offensive boards! It wasn’t a great showing from the Raptors starters, how easily the Thunder pushed them around.

The Raptors Rolled out Some Odd Lineups

Net Rating God Fred VanVleet sat out to rest a sore wrist, and it was just another indication of how important he’s become to the Raptors that their lineups just looked off all night.

First, there’s a decent argument to make that VanVleet’s steadying presence prevents the Raptors’ final minute meltdown. His minutes might also have prevented Kyle Lowry’s foul trouble, and would have given Delon Wright a little extra rest (he played 31 minutes, after playing 39 on Friday, both far above his season average of 20).

Certainly the Bench Mob would have been more like its usual self. Lowry’s foul trouble in the third led to an early rest in that period, and Dwane Casey brought him back to play with the bench unit at the beginning of the fourth. That was an interesting call; we haven’t seen many Lowry+bench units this year, and the five-man bench unit of Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam and Lucas Noguiera was excellent in the first half (outscoring the Thunder by nine in five minutes). But neither Powell nor Bebe got any run in the second half. And although that Lowry plus bench unit played the Thunder evenly, Kyle had two turnovers in the first minute of the quarter.

The Bebe DNP in the second half was curious; Poeltl was ineffective in his initial relief of Valanciunas, as he was matching up with a small, quick, Thunder second unit featuring Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson as the big men. Nogueira came in ready to play, flashing all of his tantalizing skills—passing, rebounding, deflecting balls, rim-running—while limiting his mistakes to perhaps overpassing.

He was a +15, and ended up as the team’s second-leading rebounder, in just six minutes of play.

Now, Poeltl played better in the second half, which made it surprising when Valanciunas got into foul trouble, and was replaced by Serge Ibaka, who was absolutely awful all game. I know there’s a trust with Ibaka down the stretch of a close game that perhaps Poeltl and definitely Nogueira haven’t earned yet, but sometimes, you can tell when a guy doesn’t have it. And Serge did not have it yesterday. After hitting his first two shots he missed his last nine. Nine straight misses! He also had three turnovers and was a -23 on the night. I don’t know if the first two makes got into his head, or he was just too jacked to play against his old team, but either way, I don’t think he was the answer.

What an Embarrassing Performance from Marc Davis

The Thunder earned this win, and the Raptors didn’t help themselves with their poor rebounding effort and a couple of late miscues (Wright missed an open layup, DeRozan dribbled a ball off his foot, Ibaka inexplicably tackled Adams on a missed free throw rebound).

But what Marc Davis did was borderline criminal.

First, he fouled out Lowry on consecutive calls. The first was one of the worst calls you’ll ever see, and an absolute textbook case of everything a ref is not supposed to do; Westbrook put his back into Lowry to initiate contact, took a step back 15-footer, and missed. As Steven Adams collected the rebound—seriously, the shot was missed and the Thunder had controlled the rebound—Westbrook screamed “AND ONE.” Then, and only then, did Davis call a foul on Lowry. So Davis either didn’t think it was a foul, but because Westbrook did, he changed his mind; or, he waited to see if the shot would go in, and then decided to call it.

Both of which are ultimate no-nos from an official.

On the very next play, Lowry set a screen for DeRozan, on Corey Brewer; he backed his Lowry-sized butt into Brewer, who exaggerated the contact, and—guess what—Marc Davis whistled Lowry for his sixth foul.

Even though Brewer threw in some extra mustard, this one was clearly a foul, but the problem is, Marc Davis was on the baseline and this foul occurred on the left wing at the 3-point line—right in front of another official, Brent Barnaky, who wasn’t going to call it. That makes it look like Davis was targeting Lowry, regardless of the play.

Then, of course, Davis was the official who declined to call a very, very obvious foul on Corey Brewer as DeRozan went to the hoop, down two with 31 seconds to go. And that’s where things went off the rails. DeRozan got T’ed up (very clearly deserved); then the next play, the Raptors turned it over, while Carmelo Anthony very clearly held Pascal Siakam and the ref closest to the play—Davis—again swallowed his whistle.

Then DeMar got tossed, Serge got tossed, Casey got tossed and the refs had to be escorted out by security.

(I’m pretty sure that’s a sign that the refs know they f’ed up: When they ask for the police escort off the court.)

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And so an otherwise entertaining basketball game that was headed to a thrilling finish was ruined by officials. Even if you can set aside your Raptors fandom and accept that the Raptors deserved to lose, as a basketball fan, seeing the final minutes of a great game being dominated by the referees is not what you tuned in to watch.

The good news for the Raptors is that they get a chance to start a new streak against the tanking Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.