It was late in the game, the Raptors had just run another fruitless isolation possession through Kawhi Leonard, Tony Brothers had kept a silent whistle through some rough play, and Russell Westbrook had tied the game at 110 with a running layup with 4.8 seconds left.
You can’t blame a Raptors fan for feeling negative, right?
Largely, though, Wednesday night was a tremendous positive for the Toronto basketball team. First off, they got an important win — 123-114 over Oklahoma City in overtime — in the first game of a home-and-home that prefaces an otherwise breezy finish to the regular season.
Second, it’s how they got the win. Even without Kyle Lowry in the lineup, the Raptors looked largely effective in the 45-odd minutes they ran their offence. With Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol getting the start next to staples Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, and Kawhi Leonard, the ball zipped around — resulting in a first quarter that’ll go down as the most aesthetically pleasing Toronto has played this year (and one they won 39-31).
Despite a disappointing stretch late where the Thunder climbed back in from down double digits, this was a rousing victory. Leading the way was 33 points from Siakam, who made 14-for-21 and simply abused the Thunder off the dribble and in semi-transition. Siakam also had 13 rebounds, playing big when he didn’t have his outside shot going.
In support, Fred VanVleet continued his hot stretch of play since returning from injury, dropping 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting. Kawhi Leonard had 22 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists while shooting 8-for-19. As a team, Toronto was fiery from the field, shooting 51.7% from the field and 38.9% from three.
Even without Lowry, we also saw Raptors coach Nick Nurse go to a tighter rotation in this one, which resulted in a lot of quality play. Patrick McCaw, the tenth man tonight, played just five minutes in the first half. Jeremy Lin, the ninth man up, was solid with six points in 15 minutes. The starters did get a lot of run in this one, but it finally set up the type of basketball you expect the Raptors will play in the post-season — utilizing Marc Gasol in the high post, making quick decision passes, and finding open looks. They were great in their execution of this against the Thunder.
Oklahoma City was led by 42 points (16-for-29) from Russell Westbrook, who dragged his team back after Paul George (19 points) fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Without George’s support, though, Westbrook and the Thunder didn’t score in overtime until the game was already out of reach; the Raptors opened the extra frame on a prolonged 9-0 run.
The Thunder also didn’t get much help outside their big two. Dennis Schroeder was the only other player in double-figures, chipping in 12 on 16 shots off the bench. Not ideal when the Raptors are hanging passes on you left and right. The Raptors were bailed out, though, by the Thunder’s struggles at the line — they missed 14 of their 29 attempts.
Next up for the Raptors? It’s these very Thunder on Friday night, back in Toronto. Hopefully a return from Lowry would really kick things up a notch, as this game finally showed the Raptors — if not for the final few minutes of the fourth — rounding into a semblance of playoff form.