The Thunder did all it could to try to erase a 30-point deficit accumulated from a wild shooting night from Toronto and 22 points off turnovers in the first half. In an astonishing fourth-quarter push, the Thunder brought the game to within one possession but were ultimately held off by the Raptors.
The horizon looked bleak for the Thunder in the second quarter. It had given up 14 points off of eight turnovers in the first quarter and were up against a red-hot shooting performance from Toronto. The deficit plateaued at 30 when the Thunder finally found some rhythm and began the long journey towards a comeback.
The top priority for the Thunder going up against the Raptors was to take care of the ball against a team who boasts the second highest defensive rating in the league. Early on, this is the muscle the Raptors flexed in order to build its lead. They forced 13 turnovers and converted those missteps into 22 points in the first half.
“In the first half, we dug ourselves a hole. A lot of that was, we turned the ball over too much,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “Going into the game, we knew that was going to be an area that we had to really execute pretty well, and I thought the turnovers obviously led to them having a huge offensive night in the first half.”
However, the Thunder found a spark in the final minute of the half from behind the arc. Mike Muscala, Dennis Schröder, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (at the buzzer) all knocked down 3-pointers on consecutive possessions sending the Thunder into the half on a 12-0 run and cutting the Raptor’s lead to 18.
Four straight threes propel the Thunder to a 12-0 run to close the half!
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) January 16, 2020
OKC whittled it down to single digits in the third quarter by giving the Raptors a taste of their own medicine – turning defense into offense. In the third quarter alone, the Thunder forced seven Toronto turnovers leading to 11 points on the other end. The Thunder were now applying more pressure defensively, being more aggressive with help-side defense and picking up the ball before it crossed the half line.
“We did a better job in that second half. Our pressure up the floor was good. I thought we came over and helped a little bit more aggressively than we did maybe in the first half,” said Donovan. “We got active with our hands, and we were a little bit disruptive and deflected some passes and did a better job with our activity in the second half.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 16, 2020
However, the Raps were still shooting at an unreasonably high 59% from the field and 69% from 3-point land. Going into the fourth quarter, the lead was 14, but the Thunder’s battle was far from downhill. Two straight empty possessions from the Thunder led to two consecutive run out dunks by OG Anunoby which opened the door for the Raps scoring on five of its next seven possessions. The lead ballooned to 21 with just under seven minutes left.
What happened next was a manifestation of pure fight from OKC. A 14-0 Thunder run which included three steals, two 3-pointers and a trio of transition layups cut the 21-point margin to seven in a matter of two minutes. Bodies dove on the ground for loose balls and hard-fought offensive rebounds gave way to second chances for the Thunder to cut the lead down to three with an ample two and a half minutes remaining in the game.
After two free throws, Gilgeous-Alexander the game was now separated by only three points with plenty of time remaining on the clock. Time and momentum stood on the Thunder’s side. This didn’t stop Kyle Lowry who was one of seven Raptors to finish in double figures. Lowry advanced the ball up the floor and knocked down a tough floater in the lane to send the game back to two possessions. The Thunder had an opportunity to answer on the other end, but a missed 3-pointer from Mike Muscala gave the Raptors a chance to stretch the lead even further which they did with another bucket form Lowry.
It was now a seven-point game with a minute left, the Thunder desperately needed a bucket to keep its chance of a comeback alive. The Thunder moved the ball quickly, each player using a shot fake to try to gain some ounce of daylight for a clean look. The ball ended in Schröder’s hands who used a shot fake to get off a decent look from three which didn’t fall.
The Thunder would not score again and the Raptors held on to pull off the victory.
Part of the burst in the fourth quarter resulted in a stunning highlight for Danilo Gallinari. A missed shot from the Raptors landed in the hands of SGA who bolted in transition flanked by Schröder. Gilgeous-Alexander passed the ball ahead to the lightning-quick sixth man who attacked full speed on the right side of the floor drawing the attention of three Raptors who were back on defense. They couldn’t see Gallinari zooming down the opposite sideline perfectly timing his delay behind the possession.
Schröder got all the way to the lane before zipping the ball to a cutting Gallinari. He elevated over late help side defense for a two-hand slam through contact for a ferocious and-one to bring the crowd to its feet and the game to one possession.
While the Raptors’ defense gave them the early lead, it was the sustainability of its shooting that kept them ahead down the stretch. They shot above 50 percent from the three and the field in all four quarters and finished the game shooting at a 61 percent clip from the field and 55.6 percent from behind the arc. This offensive production led to seven Raptors scoring in double figures and three players with over 20 points.
“We just started scraping and fighting and those are the ones we used to talk about early in the season, we can’t wait that long to impose our will” -Chris Paul
“We know if there’s time on the clock, there’s nothing us as a group is not capable of. It’s been a little bit of us in the past to get down a little bit, a lot actually, to start games. We just got to figure out a way to not let that happen, and put together a full four quarters.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Thunder’s next test comes in the form of a back-to-back at home against Miami and Portland. This will wrap up the Thunder’s stretch at home as they take off for a two-game stretch beginning on Monday in Houston.