No Dennis Schroder. No Danilo Gallinari. No Hamidou Diallo. And yet, no problems for Oklahoma City as they battled to a win against the reigning NBA champions. The Raptors were dealing with injuries of their own (without Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell along with fringe contributor Matt Thomas), but no one can take away from the Thunder a win which was well deserved, especially playing without last week’s best Western Conference player.
The game was played with high defensive intensity, but the huge number of threes both teams hit resulted in the scores inaccurately representing how great both teams were on defense, specifically with the incredible pressure on shot creators. As a result, the game had very few large runs and neither team could build a lead larger than 8, so the game remained close all the way to the final seconds.
With 13.4 seconds still to play in the game and the Thunder up 1 point, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (who had 32 points on the night) grabbed an important defensive rebound before racing the ball up the floor. The Raptors had multiple good opportunities to foul him and keep the game alive, but they decided against it, eventually fouling Chris Paul with 3.5 seconds left. The Raptors needed to foul once more to force free throws but upon the inbounds Gilgeous-Alexander once again darted off, leaving the Raptors defense helpless and running out the clock for a Oklahoma City win.
The Thunder were led by an incredible game from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, showing off his length inside and a great mid range touch to record a 32 point outing on 21 shots and coming up big for some smart plays down the stretch. Chris Paul also flaunted his veteran presence, controlling the offensive tempo like a chess master and showing off his clever manipulation of the high pick-and-roll. This resulted in 25 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. Some more under-the-radar performances included the 4 threes made by Darius Bazley and the defensive disruption caused by Nerlens Noel.
Despite the unfortunate result, the Raptors fans had plenty of impressive performances to enjoy. Fred VanVleet hit 4 threes on his way to 20 points and 8 assists along with some exceptional plays defensively. The usual suspect, Kyle Lowry, put together a strong game without his partner in crime in Pascal Siakam. The team shot the triple very well but let OKC off the hook by over fouling and allowing easy points from the free throw line. It is also becoming clear that Chris Boucher has become one of the Raptors' best bench players, putting in another bouncy and dynamic game in his 19 minutes. OG Anunoby disappointingly played one of his worst games all season.
This game improves the Thunder to 17-15 and strengthens their grip on the 7th seed in the West, as they have won 7 of their last 10 games. On the other hand, the Raptors are now significantly more threatened by 5th place Philadelphia in an attempt to hold 4th position at 22-11.
Both teams will be at home on Tuesday for their next matchups, the Thunder playing host to the Mavericks and the Raptors taking on Cleveland.