One hates to say so, but the Toronto Raptors seem so much stronger since they dealt Rudy Gay to Sacramento a couple of weeks ago; they are, after all, leading the Atlantic Division despite being well below .500, they’d won three straight on the road, and they were up six at the half. Somewhere in the third quarter, though, the Thunder defense woke up: after yielding 37 in the second, they held Toronto to a mere 13 on 4-22 shooting, putting OKC in the lead by nine. Then in the fourth, the OKC offense snoozed, and a 10-0 Raptor run put Toronto up five with 2:30 left; with :26 left, the Raptors led by two, and Amir Johnson (16 points, 13 rebounds) dropped in two free throws at the :14 mark. Kevin Durant got a good look, but no points, and Kyle Lowry put it away on two more foul shots. The final: Toronto 104, Oklahoma City 98, and rather a lot of streaks came to a close.
Toronto shot a fairly dismal 39 percent from the floor, still three percentage points better than the Thunder. Five Raptors, though, made double figures, with Lowry’s 22 at the top. The secret weapon, if you ask me, was John Salmons, who led the bench with 14 points and +22 (game high). And there’s a Telltale Statistic: Toronto got fifteen more shots than OKC.
The one thing keeping the Thunder in this game, really, was their free-throw prowess: they hit 35 of 36. They had a slight lead in rebounds (47-42), a less-slight lead in turnovers (19-13). And while Durant had a decent 24, and Russell Westbrook a sizzling 27, nobody else broke into double digits. Second-night fatigue? Maybe, maybe not. I persist in thinking that Toronto, when sufficiently motivated, gets the job done, and on this road trip, they had the motivation.
Next outing: Madison Square Garden, Christmas Day. The Knicks are terrible, but they’re consistent.