Well, it took two games to get there, but the Toronto Raptors finally knocked off the Western Conference front-runners in the Denver Nuggets. After thoroughly outplaying the Nuggets in their first matchup, Toronto stepped on the gas and only let up momentarily in the third quarter on their way to securing an all important W. The combination of home cooking, sleeping in one’s own bed and not forgetting how to shoot the basketball were some of the ingredients that were thrown into the soup-pot for the Raptors.
Now, after taming Jamal Murray, Toronto has to weather yet another All-Star Canadian point guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and his Oklahoma City Thunder in order to keep the good times (see: winning) going. The Thunder, like the Raptors, are locked into a fierce play-in battle; however, unlike the Raptors, Oklahoma City has the opportunity to catapult all the way up to 4th place in the span of a game or two, whereas Toronto looks to be locked in at 7-10, barring an ugly stretch of losses that could drop them out of the picture entirely.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl
Oklahoma City – Jaylen Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lugentz Dort, Josh Giddey, Jaylin Williams
Toronto – Dalano Banton (thumb – out), Otto Porter Jr. (foot – out)
Oklahoma City – Chet Holmgren (foot – out), Kenrich Williams (wrist – out)
Make or Miss League
As it turns out, Jack Armstrong has been spot-on all along — the NBA really is a make or miss league! While that proclamation may not be the most bold (yes, you need to score to win), it has absolutely applied to the Toronto Raptors for the majority of their season. In their previous game against Denver, Toronto shot 40% from 3, 88% from the free throw line and 53% from the field. All year, the Raptors have really stretched the bounds of ineptitude from both beyond the three point and free throw line. Often, it has, ultimately, been their demise. Why this applies so heavily to the Raptors as opposed to some other teams in the league is because Toronto’s margin for error in their offensive game is razor-thin.
For tonight’s game against the Thunder, they’re going to need everyone to be firing on all cylinders, especially if Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal Siakam continue to struggle like they have in their last handful of games.
Contain. Contain. Contain.
While we’re on the topic of highlighting areas that the Raptors have struggled in, how about their ability to keep their man in front of them on the perimeter? Here we have, yet again, an area that has been an Achilles heel of Toronto’s for quite some time. Unfortunately for Raptors fans, Oklahoma City have one elite perimeter player and a bevvy of heady, sneaky ball handlers on their roster. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the craftiest guards in the game today and he is putting on an absolute masterclass of a season. On the year, Shai is averaging a tidy 31 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds and a hair under 2 steals per game. A water-bug guard already poses a problem for Toronto’s defense, but a 30+ point per game one that averages nearly 11 trips to the free throw line per game and converts at a 90% clip? That could spell big, big trouble.
If Toronto is going to have any hope of coming away with a victory against the Thunder, they’re going to have to contain OKC’s guard play a significant amount. That goes for Josh Giddey, too. His ability to push the ball for the Thunder — who play at the 4th quickest pace in the NBA — cannot be understated. On the bright side, Nick Nurse loves throwing the clamps on one player to ensure that they aren’t the ones that beat him, and, in this instance, it might just be the right strategy to emphasize slowing down Gilgeous-Alexander. Maybe...
The Oklahoma City Thunder are very young. Youngest in the NBA, as a matter of fact! The Raptors aren’t necessarily old, per se, as they grade out to the middle of the pack in average age, but they have championship experience where the Thunder don’t even have playoff experience. The real question here is, are the championship Toronto Raptors in there? Somewhere? Anywhere? Sure, almost the entire roster has been turned over since the ‘19 chip, but the lifeblood of this year’s team (Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Nick Nurse) were integral pieces of that team and you’ve got to believe that their pedigree has to count for something, especially against a team like OKC.
With both teams fighting for their proverbial playoff lives, will youth win out? Is home cooking and a hot-hand in Fred VanVleet enough to overcome a streaking Thunder squad that has put together four straight wins? Time will tell.