There are schedule losses for teams, but there are also schedule losses for fans — namely, those games where both teams are playing on the second end of a back-to-back. They’re usually filled with poor shooting, a plethora of turnovers, and lackadaisical defense.
Last night was all of that — but was still a highly-entertaining, back-and-forth affair featuring two stellar backcourts trading punches.
Unfortunately for the Toronto Raptors, the Oklahoma City Thunder came out on top.
One Ugly Minute
The Raptors took a one-point lead with 54 seconds left, and were a stop or two away from victory. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get that stop — Shai Gilgeous-Alexandar blew by Kyle Lowry and lofted up a floater that put OKC up 98-97 — and then compounded that with two more huge mistakes.
First, one earlier mistake came back to haunt them — the Raptors couldn’t call timeout because Nick Nurse wasted it on a ridiculous challenge that was an obvious foul, and clearly wouldn’t be overturned. (I don’t know that I can blame Nurse totally. Surely it’s someone’s job to watch the replays and tell him to challenge or not?)
So, the Raptors came down... and everyone stood around while Kyle Lowry dribbled into the corner and handed the ball off the Fred VanVleet, who dribbled up top and launched a terrible three with six seconds on the shot clock. Just a horrific offensive possession that left OKC the ball with 16 seconds left.
And then Terence Davis II forgot time and/or score and allowed Gilgeous-Alexander to dribble out almost all of the clock.
Those are uncharacteristic errors for the defending champs, but as noted above — those are the kind of things that happen to tired teams.
Serge Ibaka’s role with Marc Gasol on the sidelines has been interesting to watch. He’s played pretty well on offense lately — he had a good start last night, draining his first three, had three rebounds in the first four minutes, and had a nice dish to McCaw off a ball fake for three.
But his defense has come under fire, which I think is a bit unfair. He’s being asked to do a lot with Gasol out, guarding big men and holding down the rebounding fort. He’s been subbing out in odd patterns to match up, and he’s been dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage to shore up the rebounding.
I think Serge is playing fine. But it shows the limitations of the team without Gasol.
Patrick McCaw and Oshae Brisset both played pretty well again, a night after both had the games of their live.
Brissett was again exactly what you want from a rookie in the role they’re asking him to play. He ran the floor well, throwing down a sweet alley-oop from Terence Davis, played with high energy on D, and dove on the floor for a loose ball. He also had a nice double-clutch finish around Steven Adams in the third, that no doubt would have drawn a foul if he wasn’t an undrafted rookie.
As for McCaw, he shot the ball well again, and was again aggressive on offense, which I love to see. But he got regularly beat on defense, which was a problem, since his primary assignment was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest it was tired legs, but he just wasn’t moving his feet the way we’ve seen him before.
Shai Gorgeous Stat Line
32 points, 12-of-21 shooting, 3-of-5 from downtown, seven rebounds, two assists, three steals. Not bad for the hometown kid!
I was pleading with him to chill, of course, but I also can’t help but feel that sense of pride when a Canadian does well. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Gilgeous-Alexander is how polished he looks; he looks like a four- or five-year vet, not a second-year guy. He’s under control, he’s got a wide range of moves and shots, he can hit floaters that take guards years to develop... if we can get him playing consistently for team Canada, we might finally become that FIBA/Olympic contender we’ve been dreaming about!
Technical Boy Nick Nurse
So Coach Nurse now leads the league in technical fouls with eight. Eight techs! In 33 games! That’s either insane, or awesome, and I can’t decide which.
He probably should have blown up at the refs after that missed double-dribble/jump ball call on Chris Paul with just over a minute left. Sure, the refs made a make-up call on the next play and it came out even, but still. That’s a bad miss.
Anyway, back to the techs, Matt Devlin keeps suggesting that Nurse feels that the Raptors just aren’t getting the respect from the refs that a champion deserves. I’m not sure I agree with that — I would, after all, like all teams to be officiated the same — and overall I don’t know that the Raptors have been egregiously officiated this year, compared to other teams.
I do think the officiating has gotten worse, and I blame replay, including the coach’s challenges; I think officials are afraid to make tight calls because they don’t want them overturned, and/or they think it’s better to call nothing and let replay sort it out.
Obviously the amazing camera work and HD video allow us to see more than ever, and scrutinize things more clearly than ever. But it is unfortunate to see the conversation around so many games come down to referee chatter. No one wants to see that.
The Raptors are back at it again tomorrow. I’m sure a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, and on New Year’s Eve no less, against the horrible Cavaliers, will make that one a must-watch. Can’t wait to tune in!