Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
It was a quick trip up north for the Thunder before returning to Oklahoma City for three straight games in Chesapeake Energy Arena. It might have been a short outing on Monday against Minnesota, but the Thunder didn’t need much time to show off its depth with seven players scoring in double figures for only the second time this season. The headliners in that group of seven were Danilo Gallinari who dropped a new career-high with 30 points alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who also recorded a historic stat line with his first triple-double of the season tallying 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists.
SGA became only the fifth player in OKC history to record a triple-double and only the third guard to post a 20-point, 20 -rebound game in 25 years. The Thunder will look to ride this wave of momentum as they face a tough three-game home stretch starting with the Raptors.
The Thunder’s last time out against Toronto came down to the wire. Neither team lead by more than eight points and the Thunder emerged with the win behind an impressive 32-point showing from Toronto native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a clutch performance form Chris Paul and a disciplined effort on defense to get stops down the stretch.
The Raptors, however present a different look than what the Thunder faced in late December. Since that point, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam has been reinserted into the lineup after missing 11 games to a groin stretch. This shifts the Raptors main point of production from the backcourt to the frontcourt with Siakam and Serge Ibaka combining for nearly 40 points and 17 rebounds per game. In the Thunder’s final matchup with the Raptors this season, it will take a collective defensive and rebounding effort to rout the Raps.
Minnesota’s defense ranks second in the league with a 103.8 defensive rating. The Thunder faced off against another formidable defense on Monday in Minnesota. In that game, the Thunder combated the high-powered defense by exploiting mismatches, playing with pace and getting to the foul line. By the midway point of the game, the Thunder attempted 18 free throws and finished with 26. Danilo Gallinari made his living at the line shooting 11-12 on his way to 30 points. To ensure constant production against the Raptors bastille, OKC will need to continue to put its efforts in the controllables like its tempo and aggressiveness.
Second chance points – In the past two games, the Thunder’s first shot defense has been effective, but have allowed a few too many second chance opportunities for its opponents. It was the main emphasis coming out of the Thunder’s loss to the Lakers and although the squad improved on Monday against Minnesota, offensive put backs kept the game close for the first two quarters.
It will take a collaborative rebounding effort for the Thunder to get in the paint and clean up the glass. As they learned in December, every possession counts when playing the defending NBA champs.
“The Lakers are an elite offensive rebounding team, [Minnesota] is a really good offensive rebounding team, we needed to rebound better,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan after the game on Monday. “At times we don’t have the biggest and most athletic team out there, it has to be a big responsibility.”
At game 41, the Thunder have amassed some headlining trends over the first half of the season. The Thunder started the season with an 8-12 record over the first 20 games. From that point, it has been a series of winning streaks offset by no more than two consecutive losses. The recent success for the Thunder has resulted in the fourth best record in the league since Thanksgiving at 17-6 trailing only the Bucks, Lakers and Jazz.