Thunder Fall to Surging Raptors

December 4, 2010 by  
Filed under NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder

It was destined to be a game of maniacal running if not one of extended runs. Over the first two quarters at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night the Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma Thunder traded buckets and boards to a 59-52 visitors lead at the break. Aside from a 14-6 run early in the first quarter neither team allowed the other to escape early with production in the paint and hot shooting pacing both sides. In a turn of the tables the Thunder bench outscored the Raptors reserves 24-21 over the first 24 minutes and 8-4 on the glass. That advantage didn’t change much and while it spoiled Toronto’s streak of seven straight games outscoring the oppositions reserves, the 111-99 victory soothed all sores.

“Like coach says, we got to believe in ourselves,” said centre Andrea Bargnani following the win. “We’re good. We can win big games. We have to keep working and have more confidence in ourselves.”

Bargnani sustained the Raptors early with a commendable 11 points and seven rebounds before the break while reserve Leandro Barbosa added 10 points for the cause. OKC forward Jeff Green registered 13 first half points with his point guard Russell Westbrook adding 10 points and five assists in support. A 59-52 Thunder lead at intermission set the stage for an exciting third quarter.

The Raptors initiated the attack with a 12-4 run to start the third frame, which included six points from forward Sonny Weems, the last of which was a alley-oop pass on a Thunder turnover that prompted the visitors to call a timeout after just three minutes of play. Out of that timeout that Raptors executed another alley-oop play, this time from point guard Jose Calderon to a cutting Amir Johnson as they continued to push the pace. With Toronto’s defence forcing three turnovers in that span while giving up none the run grew to a 17-4 binge before OKC reserve James Harden sank a three-pointer to end the strike… but the Raptors attack continued.

In his best performance of the season Calderon finished with 15 assists and orchestrated the pace of the game, setting up a backcourt stretch drive showdown with a bubbling Westbrook. Without Kevin Durant on the floor (sidelined for the game with a knee injury) Westbrook was the go to guy after coming off a dominant crunch-time triple overtime win versus the New Jersey Nets two nights earlier.

Cue the final frame.

With Barbosa continuing his hot play from the pine early in the fourth quarter the Raptors managed to keep the Thunder at bay for most of last 12 minutes. Toronto also picked up its interior defence, minimizing points given up in the paint. Bargnani had an inspired put pack on a Barbosa miss that ignited the crowd and gave him his first double-double of the season.

“Today there was a lot of energy on the defensive end,” said Bargnani. “When we play good defence we always run our fast break and out up-tempo game is great.”

The expected Thunder run came with less than three minutes to play with what Raptors head coach Triano calls “desperate” tactics that led to a couple of inbound steals and buckets. It was a small eruption that had Triano calling for a 20-second time out to steady the troops, a move that paid off well.

“We were just giving them the ball,” said Calderon on the near lapse down the stretch. “We weren’t thinking. We thought we already won the game. They were trapping so somebody’s going to be open. That’s why after that timeout it was just ‘put the ball on the floor’ and we scored a couple of times.”

A Bargnani basket followed by a Johnson block on the other end led to yet another wet jumper from the Italian big man. Then a speedy steal in the lane by Sonny Weems ended in a lay up that finally killed all hope for the Thunder.

Six Raptors reached double-digit scoring in the affair after seven did the same on Wednesday versus the Washington Wizards. Not only does the team seemed to have grown comfortable with the idea of equal opportunity basketball but they are a squad playing well out of timeouts, breaks and intermissions. That usually means guys are working from the same page, from the starters to the bench. Each player in Triano’s nine-man rotation on Friday played at least 16 minutes but only Bargnani played over 31 minutes in the game (41 minutes).

It’s the kind of roster management Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has mastered with his own squad but like in so many ways on this night, his team was beat at their own game.

“Everything has changed,” said Barbosa who finished with 22 points. “Even the fans were really helping us with the energy we brought int he second half. I think we just decided to go out there and play the game and we took the lead and didn’t want to leave an opportunity for them to take the lead back. We were really smart and did a great job at the end.”