Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 130-121 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
One — Exhilarating: The Raptors played their best half of basketball in over a month to create a 30-point advantage, yet that lead still wasn’t safe. Oklahoma City stormed back with four unanswered threes to close the first half, and kept the pressure on the Raptors right until the very end. Naturally, the progression of the game does raise questions about the Raptors’ ability to hold a lead — especially following recent losses to Portland and San Antonio — but credit where credit is due. The Thunder had five shooters on the floor at all times and the constant drive-and-kick assault from Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was relentless. All in all, this win was a great one for the Raptors.
Two — Clinical: As impressive as the Thunder were, the Raptors were just that much better. Save for a short dry spell at the start of the third quarter, the Raptors were firing on all cylinders. Not only did all five starters finish with double digits, but they all shot better than 50 percent from the field. The bench did its part as Norman Powell and Terence Davis combined for 35 points on 19 shots. The pace and execution by the Raptors was a genuine joy to watch as any player could hit a shot at any given time.
Three — Clutch: What’s refreshing is that the Raptors didn’t panic when the game grew tight, even after an and-one by Danilo Gallinari cut the lead to one. Pascal Siakam got to the hoop for a bucket, Kyle Lowry drove inside for another pair of layups, and Norman Powell finished it off with a driving dunk after taking it right past his man. Part of this success was a reflection of the defense as the Thunder had a bearded pylon in Mike Muscala as its last line, but it was also simply great execution by the Raptors. There is an ongoing question concerning how the Raptors will close games, and without that one clear-cut superstar, tonight’s team approach might be Toronto’s best bet.
Four — Fresh: Marc Gasol was roaring to go after sitting out the past month with a hamstring injury. Gasol’s energy on offense was levels beyond what it was to start the season as he aggressively hunted for his shots both at the three-point arc and in the post. On one particularly memorable play, the soon-to-be 35-year-old was spinning and pirouetting more than Pascal Siakam on a drive to the basket. Dynamic scoring is a luxury — what’s most important is that Gasol brings a measure of calm and organization to both ends of the floor. The second-unit offense ran much, much smoother with Gasol as a traffic cop at the top of the floor.
Five — Underrated: This game was another reminder of why OG Anunoby is such an intriguing prospect. Anunoby had 21 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals in one of his finest performances of the season. He set the tone early as he came up with three steals that directly led to transition baskets. On another possession, Anunoby stopped the play with a deflection and forced the Thunder into a shot-clock violation on the ensuing inbound. Anunoby is a completely different player when he shares the floor with Gasol as there’s more space to operate down low, better passing around the perimeter for threes, and better help defense and communication to allow the 22-year-old to take more chances on defense.
Six — Smooth: Pascal Siakam is starting to shake off the rust. During one stretch in the third quarter, the Raptors went to Siakam in the post on four-straight possessions. Two resulted in fouls on Chris Paul, another resulted in a layup after Siakam delicately Eurostepped his way through the Thunder’s help defense, and finally he hit a leaning one-legged fadeaway in the style of Dirk Nowitzki. Let this game be a lesson to other teams: putting a point guard on Siakam will not work and it’s borderline disrespectful. OKC learned its lesson and started double-teaming Siakam in the fourth quarter.
Seven — Efficient: Norman Powell hasn’t missed a beat. Despite missing time with a shoulder injury, Powell continues to be in the finest form of his career. He’s in an incredible rhythm with his finishing as every move he makes is decisive and purposeful. His spot-up threes are falling, he’s showing great awareness on his drives to the rim, he’s a force to be reckoned with in transition, and he’s even hitting his last-second prayers. There was a play in the second half where Powell was up in the air, Paul dislodged the ball, and Powell managed to regain possession and still toss it in from just inside the three-point arc.
Eight — Response: Frustrations started to rise as the lead was slipping away in the third. The broadcast camera caught Ibaka screaming at Terence Davis after the undrafted rookie missed a post-entry pass. So how did Davis respond? He hit a three, drove to the rim and got his own putback, then opened the fourth quarter with two gorgeous hit-ahead passes to Anunoby streaking out in transition. Davis can be loose with the ball and disengaged at times like any other rookie, but he will respond positively to criticism.
Nine — Annoying: Watching a 30-point lead trimmed down to one is anxiety-inducing and Pat McCaw bore the brunt of the criticism. He wasn’t the only reason for the comeback, but he did commit two silly turnovers that directly opened the door for the Thunder. McCaw was actually having a nice game by his standards until that point, with two steals and five assists to go along with his six points, but once again his limitations were exposed when his role was overextended. McCaw couldn’t handle being pressed tightly by the Thunder defenders and that’s a tough look when his main role on offense is to be a steadying presence. It’s not that McCaw should be benched altogether, but his minutes always seem to outstrip his production and that’s become a major point of frustration within the fanbase.
Ten — Solution: The McCaw problem should ultimately be solved with the impending return of Fred VanVleet. McCaw will slide into a third point guard slot and battle for scant minutes with the reserves. Ideally, his role would be to play aggressive defense, and to handle it so that VanVleet and Lowry can operate as threats away from the ball.
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