Well, that ended up being a little more stressful that it should have been, didn’t it? The Toronto Raptors once again turned a strong first half into a discombobulated second half, only this time — unlike against San Antonio and Portland — they were able to hang on for the win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If you were following this game on Twitter at all last night, you know where we’ve go to start, right?
Let’s Get the McCaw Slander out of the Way
The Patrick McCaw experiment continues, and man is it some weird science.
Look, it really wasn’t all that bad. The Thunder got Toronto’s lead to single digits late in the third quarter last night, and a McCaw-at-point unit (featuring Marc Gasol, Terence Davis, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell) went on a 10-0 bridging the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth; that group ended up outscoring OKC 27-14.
The lead stood at 21 when Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam came back. With Anunoby and McCaw still out there, the Thunder went on a sudden 22-4 run.
That, obviously, cannot all be on McCaw. Yes, McCaw was bad in this stretch; he had a brutal turnover in the backcourt that led to a three-point play, and he was almost inexplicably bad on defense, allowing multiple blow-bys. But, much like the case on Sunday, the Raptors offense really fell apart when both Lowry and Siakam were on the floor.
And maybe we can chalk that up to Siakam’s rust. I’m not too worried about that, yet.
The question really is, what is McCaw doing on the floor at that point in the game?
With Fred VanVleet sidelined, I get that McCaw has to play that playmaker role when Lowry and Siakam are off. Fine. What is his role in that closing unit, though? You don’t need him to handle the ball there, with both Siakam and Lowry on the floor. (Why he was bringing the ball up when he made that aforementioned turnover?) He can’t (and often won’t) shoot, so teams can leave him and crowd Siakam.
Surely Davis (who all the numbers favour at this point) is a more legitimate threat who opens up the floor for others? Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a better defender and rebounder if you want size. Marc Gasol needed a rest, but Chris Boucher was an option if the Raptors wanted to stay really big. Heck, if you want to really space the floor, Matt Thomas is on this team too.
Some of McCaw’s minutes and usage I can understand. Him spending four minutes on the floor with the starters in a close game when there are multiple options that fit better with that unit behind him on the bench? I just can’t.
All right, let’s talk about the big lineup that started the game. OKC is one of the teams that employs a big traditional centre in Steven Adams, so it makes some sense. And outside of Adams, OKC is small, so it creates a mismatch somewhere on the floor at all times (see Chris Paul guarding Pascal Siakam). It also makes sense in a “play your best guys” approach, with VanVleet still out.
And it seemed to work! By putting long defenders on OKC’s perimeter players, the Raptors got their hands on multiple passes in the first quarter, creating several fast-break opportunities; the Raptors scored 14 points off of eight Oklahoma City turnovers in the first quarter.
Gasol looked great. He hinted before the game he might start being more aggressive on offense, and he delivered, taking nine shots in his 31.5 minutes, scoring 15 points. Welcome back Big Spain!
Now, I don’t think this should be a regular starting unit or anything, but I’m more than OK with Nick Nurse trying it out from time to time. If the Raptors end up facing Philadelphia in the postseason, you know it’s going to be necessary.
Start OG at the Two Every Game
OK, that’s not realistic, but OG Anunoby, who started at the shooting guard spot for the first time, had a sensational opening quarter. Anunoby (who’s “chiseled out of marble,” according to my wife) (hey, she has good taste!) did it on both ends, stealing two passes and deflecting at least two more, and preventing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from getting what he wanted — all while hitting two of his three three-point attempts on the other end.
Anunoby finished with 21 points on 13 shots, along with five rebounds and five assists. Maybe he’s been a two-guard all along!?
Also, we can’t let this game go without acknowledging this winning smile:
Welcome to the “No Lead is Safe” NBA
Even when the Raptors went up 30, I was not comfortable watching last night’s game. The Raptors have blown too many leads lately, and in today’s NBA, where every team employs multiple three-point threats, it really doesn’t seem like you can ever relax. And, hey, the Raptors themselves came back from 30 down this year.
(Thank goodness they didn’t become the first time to win a game after trailing by 30 and lose a game after leading by 30 in the same season.)
Even with that said, the game shouldn’t have been that stressful in the second half. The Raptors really need to figure out their fourth-quarter execution.
OKC does a pre-game prayer, which is a really anachronistic and somewhat offensive thing that I’m kind of surprised the NBA still allows.
That said... some prayers were being answered last night, and they were all on Toronto’s side of the ball.
First there was Norman Powell’s off-balance, double-clutch heave at the end of the third that dropped.
Then in the fourth, Marc Gasol fired a three-pointer in, high off the glass, from straight away.
And finally, a few plays later with the shot clock winding down, OG Anunoby threw a deep ball into the rafters, and it came down through the net:
The Raptors shouldn’t have needed divine intervention after being up 30, but it sure seems like they got it.
It may not have been the second half we wanted after that great opening 20 minutes, but hey — it’s still a quality road win against a good Western conference opponent, and not for nothing, but those 20 minutes are a reminder — this team is pretty damn good when it’s healthy.