10 things from Raptors-Thunder

William LouNBA reporter
Yahoo Canada Sports

Here’s 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 123-114 OT win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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One – Hard fought: The Raptors should have put away the Thunder in regulation, but they got their act together in overtime. A confluence of bad officiating and Paul George nailing contested threes allowed the Thunder to close the gap, but Toronto’s defense recovered as OKC was held scoreless for the first four minutes and 30 seconds of overtime. Overall, it was still a very impressive performance to get the win on the road without Kyle Lowry, who sat out due to his sore ankles.

Two – Clutch: Pascal Siakam was the best player on the floor for the Raptors as he finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, two steals and block to keep pace with D’Angelo Russell in the Most Improve Player race. Not only did Siakam score on just about every forward the Thunder threw at him, but he also delivered timely baskets in response to momentum-shifting shots by OKC. Nick Nurse even called Siakam’s number with the game tied and the shot clock turned off in the fourth, but Siakam was ultimately thwarted by Dennis Schroder who slid in for a charge while Siakam was airborne.

Three – Control: Marc Gasol’s importance in this game far exceeded his modest stat line (10 points, six rebounds, two assists). Gasol’s passing provided structure for the Raptors’ offense in the absence of Lowry, and although he only tallied two assists, Gasol’s ability to make quick decisions consistently triggered swing sequences that led to open threes. Gasol was also a deterrent at the basket, although the Raptors need to do a much better job of helping their centres secure loose balls. OKC held an 16-6 advantage on the offensive glass.

Four – Savvy: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra noted a few weeks back that Gasol gives the Raptors another player who isn’t “sick at sea” during a tight game. The play below in overtime, where Gasol slips the screen before cutting to the rim for a soft layup, is an example of how Gasol doesn’t panic in a tight spot. He just keeps on creating easy chances with how he reads the game.

Five – Mugged: Kawhi Leonard was never able to fully impose his will on the game. The Thunder made a concerted effort of doubling Leonard from the start, and he responded by giving up the ball early which led to six assists on the night. But that left Leonard without his rhythm when OKC went back to man-on-man in the fourth, and along with the horribly stingy whistle, Leonard was unable to deliver in the clutch. Still, Leonard doesn’t make life easy for himself when he holds the ball in crunch time. He’s much better when he can seal his man on a post-up, before having the ball entered to him so he can face up and attack. Dribbling at a set defense isn’t his best trait.

Six – Steady: Fred VanVleet stepped up in Lowry’s absence with 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting. VanVleet was able to salvage at least three short clock possessions by creating his own shot off the dribble. Crossing up Russell Westbrook and blowing by him for a straight line-drive layup in overtime was impressive, especially for a player like VanVleet, who logged 40 minutes just three games after returning from a month on the shelf. It speaks to his professionalism that his conditioning was still strong in an overtime game.

Seven – Reliable: Not to be overlooked, Danny Green was also excellent in the win with his 17 points and six assists. Green was red-hot to start from deep, as he hit 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, and he even had the confidence to drive baseline against an All-Defensive player like George for a scoop layup. Green’s offense faded as the Thunder tightened their coverage, but he still made important contributions on the defensive end.

Eight – Signs of life: Jeremy Lin wasn’t terrible in his 15 minutes off the bench, and that’s about as much as you can ask for at this point. Lin was the last rotation player to check into the game, as Nurse experimented for stretches with no point guard on the floor while VanVleet sat. Still, Lin was decently productive, as he hit a corner jumper, blew by Schroder for a pair of free throws, and hit a contested driving layup for one of Toronto’s rare baskets in the fourth.

Nine – Concern: Serge Ibaka’s production falls off a cliff whenever he comes off the bench. Ibaka was miserable on offense and porous on the defensive glass. In all fairness, both Gasol and Ibaka struggle with the second unit, but at least Gasol can still be the hub of the offense whereas Ibaka is dependent on Lowry to feed him open looks.

Ten – Getting serious: Nurse finally ditched the all-bench lineups as he looks to settle his rotation heading into the playoffs. Nurse made sure to have at least one of Siakam or Leonard on the floor with the second unit, which is how it should be. Asking Lin, OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell to generate efficient shots is unrealistic, and they always surrender any progress made by the starters.

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