The Toronto Raptors have won seven straight games for the 10th time in their 27-year history. Their latest victim, the Oklahoma City Thunder, put up a decent enough fight for three periods, keeping the Raptors within arm’s length, but the Raptors slowly pulled away in the fourth, ultimately notching the 117-98 win.
The nearly-empty gym in OKC — there are no COVID restrictions at the moment, just a rally bad basketball team — perhaps had the Raptors feeling more like they were playing at home.At times, the game matched the energy of the crowd, as both teams went through cold spells and spurts of turnovers. The talent difference between the fully-healthy Raptors, and the young Thunder — missing their best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, sidelined with a sprained ankle — was too much for the Thunder to overcome.
Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 27 points, and he collected a game-high 16 rebounds as well (along with five assists). Fred VanVleet, behind a big third quarter, chipped in 21, along with six assists.
Perhaps to emphasize that the team needs some help — what with the trade deadline being a mere 15 hours or so away — the Raptors’ bench once again underperformed, scoring a mere 15 points before garbage time. Hopefully the Trade Fairy leaves some depth under Nick Nurse’s pillow tonight!
Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon each scored 18 for the Thunder, and the pair combined to shoot 7-for-12 from downtown. Canadian Lu Dort scored 15, but it took him 24 shots to do so.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse praised the starters for moving the ball around and “taking what’s there;” in particular he said that Siakam and Anunoby were getting good chances and taking advantage of the matchups. (I’ll assume he was talking about targeting Giddey.). Specifically, Nurse called out Siakam’s decision to face up more as the game went on, noting Siakam’s ability to look over the defense and find his teammates. He then went on to make note of OG’s decision-making in the post, and how — while Anunoby still has a lot of work to do — he’s getting better at understanding when to face up, and when to back in, and where he has the advantage.
The Raptors came out of the gate targeting the rookie Josh Giddey, to great effect. Fred VanVleet crossed him over, finding Siakam in the lane for an easy two; a couple of plays later Anunoby took Giddey down low, dropping in two more. The Raptors also found themselves getting to the line easily — and actually hitting them! Combined with a 3-11 start by the Thunder, the Raptors found themselves with an early 12-8 lead.
After Giddey threw up a brick, then turned the ball over when he got his own rebound, Pascal Siakam went to work. He scored 13 sraight Raptors points, a run that included a triple and three straight transition buckets.
He finished the quarter with 15.
The Raptors then finished off the quarter on a 15-6 run — one that featured two VanVleeet three-pointers (one of them a four-point play), and a beauty find from Fred, spotting Boucher streaking to the hoop.
OG Anunoby opened the second quarter with a three-pointer to push the lead to 15. Back-to-back threes from Ty Jerome cut it back to 9, but the Raptors responded with an 11-2 run of their own, one that included Siakam tossing a ball to himself off the backboard for a layup, a Scottie Barnes-and-1, and a Gary Trent Jr. steal-and-dunk.
But a 9-0 Thunder run kept them in it, only a GTJ three provided the 59-51 halftime margin
Darius Bazley had a couple of slick jams and led the Thunder in scoring at the half with 12.
Fred VanVleet scored the Raps’ first eight points of the third, pushing the lead to 11; he scored 11 himself in the frame.
Siakam and VanVleet also busted out what is quickly becoming a favourite — and effective — play, Siakam streaking into the front court to put pressure on the defense, then dropping the lateral pass to VanVleet, open from distance:
’Tis a thing of beauty!
Meanwhile after a couple of Barnes free throws (the Raptors were a perfect 14-for-14 from the line tonight!), Anunoby scored a three — and then Barnes used the same pitch-back play from earlier, to find VanVleet for another three, giving the the Raps their largest lead, 77-60.
Poku scored five straight to keep the Thunder hanging around, but GTJ responded with five straight of his own, and the Raptors finished the third quarter with an 87-72 lead. They also had the advantage of this nightmare Thunder possession with 45 seconds to go in the quarter:
thunder had a 24 sec violation on a possession in which no passes were made. ty jerome had the ball for the whole 24 seconds and the shot clock expired— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) February 10, 2022
The Thunder never got closer than 14 in the fourth, and the Raptors led by as much as 21. Nurse finally felt comfortable enough to pull his starters with 1:47 to go; amazingly, no one cracked 40 minutes, and VanVleet played a relatively light 36.
As for the upcoming NBA Trade Deadline, Nurse said the team hasn’t had much internal talk around it, and he’s focused on just seeing the team he has getting better every day. Which of course is exactly what you want a coach to say! Still, I’m sure Nick is just as interested in we are at seeing what Masai and Bobby Webster can get for Goran Dragic, if anything.
We’ll know soon enough! The trade deadline is at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow (be sure to follow along with the Open Thread!), and shortly after that, the Raptors tip off in Houston against the Rockets.