While a majority of the population is consumed with college basketball with the official start of the Madness, the Thunder have one of their best road performances of the season against the Toronto Raptors
This one started out sloppy with both teams turning the ball over on their first possessions. I know it’s just one trip down the floor, but with how the Thunder have played on the road at times this season, I had the feeling that this could be one of those nights.
However, I was dead wrong. The Thunder, led by Russell Westbrook, came out with a fiery energy and really pushed the pace in the first quarter. They finished the quarter with 11 fastbreak points to the Raptors’ 0. What made these fast break sequences extra special tonight were Russell’s Westbrook’s incredible outlet passes. Russ decided to forego his usual “fly right by all defenders and lay it up” routine and instead dropped some absolute dimes. Example below:
He finished the quarter with only 2 field goal attempts, but as he did against the Nets, he played the facilitator role with 5 assists in the quarter. The scoring role was handled equally by all of the OKC starters, as everyone had at least two, led by Gibson with 6 and Oladipo, continuing to shoot well, with 7. Kanter also chipped in 6 once he checked in late in the quarter.
On the other end of the floor, the Thunder played solid defense and were able to capitalize on Raptor turnovers. Andre Roberson played great D on DeRozan, and the Thunder reserves were able to hold onto the lead that Russ and friends created, despite a dumb foul committed by Sabonis at the end of the quarter that led to three Raptor free throws.
The Thunder’s solid shooting (54.2%), success in transition and dominance in the paint (22 paint points to the raptors 12), guided them to a 5-point lead after one.
In the second quarter, with Russ on the bench, the Raptors came out with some energy on defense and were able to chip away at the Thunder’s lead from the free throw line. However, despite going 17 of 21 from the line in the first half (to the Thunder’s 5 of 7), they were unable to get fully back into this one as they had no answer for Russ on the other end.
When Russell returned to the floor, he seemed to be frustrated on a few offensive possessions with some no calls by the refs. In turn, he decided to take out this frustration on the Raptor defense for the rest of the quarter. He went for 10 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds in the 2nd. These 7 assists included what I’m sure will be one of my favorite, if not the favorite, Westbrook assist of the season:
The Thunder kept up their solid play on the other side of the floor as well. They didn’t really let anyone get going outside of DeRozan(14 points of 5 of 9 shooting), and even he was having to work for everything he got, as Roberson played smothering defense on the Raptor guard all game long. DeRozan, being the incredible player that he is, still got his, but he also had some “superstar” help from the refs at times tonight.
With great play all around by the Thunder, and the help of horrendous shooting from the Raptors (39.5% from the field and 10% from 3), they led by 10 at the half, 58-48.
The Thunder did not let off the gas coming out of half time. They continued their scorching hot shooting, finishing the quarter at 53.6% from the field and 55.6% from deep. Russ, playing one of his most complete games of the season, continued his dominance on his way to notching his 34th triple-double of the season, and 4th in row, with about 4 minutes left in the 3rd. Oladipo continued his solid play on offense and even Andre Roberson got in on the act knocking down a 3 of his own. The Thunder bench had a solid showing too, with the offensive fire power coming from Kanter and Sabonis.
The Raptors only scored 22 points in the quarter and no one could get anything going. Serge went 4 for 4 in the quarter (after previously going 1 of 7), but overall, they played poorly on the offensive end. Their strategy seemed to be to attack the paint, but driving down the lane straight into 2 or 3 defenders doesn’t seem like the most effective way to score. They weren’t able to get to the line at the same rate they were in the first half, and they could just not find any way to get the ball into the hoop.
However, I shouldn’t discredit the Thunder defense as they played great, forcing the Raptors into bad shots and creating turnovers.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Thunder had completely taken control, 97 -70.
Oladipo got a little run at the beginning of the fourth, but outside of that, we didn’t see the Thunder starters again. The Thunder reserve unit played solid defense in the quarter, and found offense through Abrines and Kanter, keeping the lead above 20 as the Thunder won, 123 -102.
The Thunder were led by, Russ (obviously) with 26 (8 of 17 shooting), 16 assists, and 10 rebounds; and 6 others in double figures: Oladipo (23, 3 of 3 from deep), Kanter (14), Roberson (13, great cutting throughout the game), Gibson (10) and Adams (10).
The Raptors were led by DeRozan with 22 points on 8 of 14 shooting and Norman Powell off the bench with 13. Serge, who scored 31 on the Thunder with the Magic earlier this season, had a tough night offensively with 10 points.
- The Raptors are the 10th best team in the league at defending the paint, holding teams to 41.9 per game. The Thunder scored 50 down low against them tonight.
- Taj Gibson with another solid night as a Thunder starter, 10 points on 4 of 8 shooting and 4 rebounds, including a few solid offensive rebounds.
- Speaking of offense, Andre Roberson resembled last year’s playoff Andre Roberson as he was making beautiful cuts to the basket and capped it off by knocking down a 3.
- With Kyle Lowry out, Cory Joseph has been the starting point guard for the Raptors. He had absolutely no shot tonight at defending Russell Westbrook. Russ instantly knew he was going to be able to do whatever he wanted tonight against Joseph and whoever else the Raptors tried to throw at him (mainly Norman Powell), and he did just that with one of his best all-around offensive games of the season.
- Russ also played pretty well on the defensive side tonight. He was fighting over screens and had incredibly active hands, with a steal and several deflections in this one.
- I didn’t find this out until during the game, but then had to look it up. McBuckets has apparently been a Raptor killer in his career. Excluding tonight, he’ scored 17, 20, 30 and 29, in his last four meetings against the Raptors. Also, he’s now 8 and 0 against Toronto.
- DeMarre Carrol was back in the starting lineup for the Raptors after missing several games because of a sprained ankle. But, he only played 15 total minutes tonight and wasn’t much of a factor at all.
- Serge is having a tough go offensively as of late. He’d gone scoreless for 6 quarters until his made FG in the second. He missed 8 in a row before that.
- Vic rolled his ankle on a dunk in the first half. Limped off the court in what was a scary moment for Thunder fans, but he was fine as he returned to the game not long after.
- Semaj didn’t play great tonight. He had a couple of bad turnovers, 0-1 from the field and was an overall -6. I don’t understand him getting 20 minutes. His defense did not make up for his poor play on offense. Hopefully come playoff time we see a lot more Vic at the point and a lot less Semaj.
- Delon Wright was driving it hard at Russ in the 2nd quarter with no fear. I like Wright’s ability to penetrate and collapse defenders into the lane. He seems a little unsure of when to finish it himself or kick it out, but if he can figure that out, he could be a solid scorer off the bench for the Raptors. I like his intensity on the court. The Raptors really need that penetration with Lowry out, and they get some from this guy.
- Adams had a great night tonight on both ends. He was aggressive on offense getting up 10 shots, and making 5, to go along with 5 rebounds. And, on D, he held Valanciunas to 5 points under his season average and was very physical with him down low, consistently moving him off his spots.
- If Victor Oladipo can average around 20 a game and shoot anywhere even remotely close to this good from 3, you have to throw Russ and Vic into the conversation for top 3 backcourts in the league.
- The Thunder had 97 after three on a Raptors team that has only been allowing 98 a game since the All-Star break…
- Russ is going streaking:
- Another huge key to the Thunder’s big win was absolute domination on the boards. They won the rebounding battle 47 to 32.
- In case you missed it:
- Around the league/college: If you didn’t see the bonehead play by this Vandy player, you need to check it out.
Happy March Madness, everyone!
Next up: Back home against the Kings on Saturday at 2 CST