“You would think before the game,” said the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, “if someone told us we’d have 20 turnovers and they’d hit 20 threes, you’d probably say we’d lose by 20.” Yes, one would think that. And in Friday night’s contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto did indeed manage 21 turnovers, and allow 20 three-point makes by OKC. Yet somehow, the Raptors only lost 116-109 despite not being able to get out of their own way. Still, as VanVleet confirmed, “It’s not a recipe for success.”
For what it’s worth in a loss, the Raptors played Thunder well for long stretches of this game. Much like their showdown on Wednesday in OKC, Toronto got off to a strong start by moving the ball, hitting threes, and relying on wonderful shot creation from Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. In fact, for the game they shot 50 percent from the field as a team, 52 percent from three, and didn’t let the Thunder push them around too much on the glass (some key exceptions down the stretch aside).
However, unlike the road half of their one-and-one with the Thunder, the Raptors could not keep their hands on the ball, and eventually could not generate enough three-point attempts to stay with OKC’s suddenly hot shooters. One needs only to look at the shot disparities between the two teams — 94 attempts for OKC to Toronto’s 78; 43 three-point shots for OKC to Toronto’s 25 — to understand how the math would work against the Raptors. Likewise, those 37 points from Kawhi (on 12-for-23 shooting) and 25 from Siakam (on 9-of-14 shooting) sound great at first, until factoring in their combined 15 total turnovers.
Credit to the Thunder however, they clearly adjusted to Toronto’s game plan. Using their length and team speed, they stayed home on shooters and eventually pressured the Raptors out of their comfort zone. It took them two and a half quarters, but just after the Raptors had claimed their biggest lead (13 points), OKC struck. In that third quarter, after Siakam decided to take over the game for a spell, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook returned the favour, juicing his team through a 20-4 run to end the frame. Toronto was outscored 35-22 in the third and despite it still being a close game, it was clear the Thunder had rediscovered themselves.
The trend continued in the fourth, even with Kawhi going off for 20 of his points in the final 12 minutes. Leonard shot 6-for-11 in the quarter, including 3-of-3 from three, plus 5-of-6 from the line. At times he was left to be a one man offensive machine given Fred VanVleet’s sudden inability to gain any separation from Westbrook and Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol’s reticence to shoot, and Danny Green’s mute 1-for-3 in the second half. Meanwhile, with the Raps down six with three minutes to go, Siakam was gifted with two chances to punish Westbrook and was instead frozen into a 17-foot jumper. It didn’t go in, and with it the Raptors’ chances bounced away.
In the losing effort, Danny Green did finish with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting (all from three), and VanVleet did put together a few hop-out-of-the-seat moments with the ball in his hands. We have to laugh too when thinking about Serge Ibaka (11 points, six rebounds, two blocks) effectively trolling Schroder into a technical foul after the latter had drawn a bizarre flagrant foul on him moments earlier. And we can also marvel at the wild stat lines from Marc Gasol — with a 2-6-5 and his first shot coming in the fourth quarter — and Norman Powell going for (somehow!) zero points but 11 rebounds. I’m not sure what those numbers could even mean, but much like Fred’s discarded 20, 20, and 20 reasoning, they feel of a piece with the texture of this whole game.
It would be nice to say the Raptors beat this Thunder team twice in three nights. Nicer still to say they did it without Kyle Lowry. For six and a half quarters (plus an overtime!), it looked like it would happen. But some sloppy play, a triple-double from Russ, the usual terrifying two-way play from Paul George, and the gradual shrinkage of everyone on the Raptors (save Kawhi) put an end to the dream. It’s not the most painful loss on the season, of course. The Raptors don’t have a ton to play for right now, while the Thunder definitely do. Kudos to the hungrier team and all that. But still, dang, it would have been a nice thing to say.