While it’s true superstars win professional basketball games, the other players on the team have to do something too. For Sunday evening’s Raptors vs. Thunder showdown, most of the attention was swirling around Canadian kid and burgeoning star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — and rightly so. When things were going well for the Thunder, it was because he was putting one over on Toronto. When the Raptors stifled him and had Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet doing their thing, it turned the other way.
Sadly, it was Shai who got the last word, driving in for a go-ahead bucket with just 36 seconds left. The Thunder would hang on to win an ugly one, 98-97, thanks to the Raptors’ inability to foul Gilgeous-Alexander in the game’s dying seconds. Not to name names, but this mental lapse would be the fault of Terence Davis, Toronto’s rookie guard. Remember: the other players have things to do too.
Davis was playing in crunch time because once again the Raptors were down too many of their core personnel. It gets tiresome to repeat this but here goes: In the absense of Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell, Toronto relied heavily on Lowry and VanVleet, both of whom scored 20 points, to generate much of their offense. For their parts, the former also chipped in five assists while the latter had eight. Unlike Saturday’s game against the Celtics, however, Lowry never quite found that higher gear against the Thunder to put the game away. In fact, Lowry didn’t hit a field goal in the game’s final frame, one in which the Raptors managed just 17 points. While Toronto tried, they could not elevate their game as a unit.
Once again, Toronto also leaned on Patrick McCaw to be the team’s starting small forward and in-between play-maker. Off the jump, it looked like a good decision, as Toronto grabbed a modest five-point lead in the first quarter, and McCaw hit his first three of the game. As was to be expected, the Thunder’s offense to that point came almost entirely from the usual suspects: Gilgeous-Alexander, brawny Steven Adams, and crafty Chris Paul. At the same time, neither team looked good while shooting from deep, with OG Anunoby in particular having a terrible night. He finished with just six points and five rebounds, but was a catastrophic 0-for-7 from three.
The second quarter saw the Thunder keep pace with the Raptors thanks to an explosion from Shai. The young guard had 14 points in the quarter despite the absence of any shooting support. (The Thunder got 0-for-5 from three from Terrance Ferguson, and a complete 0-for-10 from their bench from deep.) The dearth of threes from OKC allowed Toronto to double-team on any penetration into the paint, but it didn’t slow SGA. And it eventually caught up with them as OKC managed to shoot 40 percent from three in the second half.
For the third, the Raptors went full-on junk ball, trotting out a grab-bag of players up to and including Oshae Brissett once again. (The only noticeable absence was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who picked up three fouls in three minutes and wasn’t seen again.) In that frame, it looked like the Raptors found enough energy and purpose in their game. They fought back from their biggest deficit of eight points — after leading by eight in the second — and managed to frustrate Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander for the final 4-5 minutes of the frame. And despite being on the second night of a back-to-back and undersized again, Toronto stayed with the Thunder on the glass. We can thank Serge Ibaka for that, who stayed with Adams for most of the night, and finished with 12 points and 14 boards for his efforts. Ibaka even had two assists on the night.
Unfortunately, the fourth quarter was ugly — particularly for Toronto — with neither team able to fully pull away. The relative offensive explosion of the third (33-29 for Toronto) was gone as play got sloppy — both OKC and the Raps had five turnovers — and the ball looked to be flying all over the place. What emerged was a Toronto team that got a highlight play from Chris Boucher (and a total of nine points and five boards), a full 12 minutes of Davis (who did squeeze in a clutch three in the fourth), and a lot of McCaw (the inexplicable fourth quarter leading scorer for Toronto). As you can imagine, it was not the best look for the Raptors.
That summary proved to be the difference between the two teams on the night. The Thunder got 57 points from their two best players, the Raptors only 40. And down the stretch, despite both Paul and Lowry making some questionable plays, there was Shai with that aforementioned bucket, one that was never answered. VanVleet had a chance at a 3, and it was the last look the Raptors got. In the aftermath, coach Nick Nurse was quick to say, yes, Davis should have fouled Gilgeous-Alexander with the shot clock off, but that was just the kind of game it was for Toronto — a bit disorganized, a bit harried, and, ultimately, a bit tired. Not everyone was able to do the things they needed to do.