Well, now we know which late-season game people can point to if a single loss costs Oklahoma City a better playoff seed. I guess the bright side is that the Thunder would probably prefer the No. 5 seed Nuggets over the No. 6 seed Trail Blazers in the first round, assuming those teams stay in those spots and OKC stays at No. 4.
Oklahoma City dropped its first game since March 7 on Sunday with a 95-93 loss at home to the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors snapped a 14-game road losing streak and swept the season series against the Thunder in the process.
OKC tried to follow the same script it stuck to for much of the season before the (now-snapped) six-game win streak by lacking focus for three quarters before playing inspired offense in the final stanza. But, as it has been before and could be again, Oklahoma City’s charge was too little, too late and came back to bite the team.
The Thunder looked like it was going to escape with a win when it took a late three-point lead, but it just couldn’t hold on. Kendrick Perkins had two free throws late that could have pushed it to a two-possession lead, but he missed both of them and Toronto capitalized. A little hook shot by Amir Johnson with 1.4 seconds left doomed Oklahoma City, and Kevin Durant’s look at the buzzer wasn’t close.
It was definitely a deflating loss for OKC, but one bright spot was the play of James Harden. Harden scored 23 points and was a one-man wrecking crew early in the fourth quarter to help erase a 10-point Toronto lead and give the Thunder a chance to win a game that it played like it didn’t care about for much of the night. It just didn’t happen to be enough.
The Thunder just didn’t look to be in sync for most of the game, and Durant having a poor shooting night didn’t help things. Russell Westbrook contributed his own bad night from the floor, punctuated by the usual assortment of drives that were a bit out of control, and not enough of the resulting shots fell.
I tend to think that the Raptors have a record that is a lot worse than their roster should be earning, especially playing an Eastern Conference schedule. But that’s no excuse. Oklahoma City had a bad team in its own house, and it didn’t win. With as well as OKC has played against bad teams recently, maybe it was about time for the Thunder to finally drop one. It almost did Friday against Charlotte until a late run put the Bobcats away. Instead, it came tonight against Toronto. But it shouldn’t have.
Maybe the Thunder finally just lost focus after a string of wins, mostly against bad teams. But it’s time to get that focus back, because playoff seeding is on the line and a pivotal game against the Trail Blazers is only a week away. Let’s just hope OKC got whatever ailed it tonight out of its system.
- Westbrook had zero rebounds in the win Friday against Charlotte, but made up for it with a board on the Raptors’ first possession. Friday was the first time since Feb. 13 and only the second time all season that Westbrook didn’t get at least one rebound. Maybe his rebound totals are going to dip a bit now that Perkins and Serge Ibaka have replaced Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green in the starting lineup?
- How about Perk with three dimes in the first three-plus minutes? Going all Steve Nash on us.
- I also liked Perk basically drawing a technical foul on Johnson in the first quarter. On the previous possession, Johnson had a mismatch with Perk when he had the ball on the perimeter, but drained a three instead of taking Perkins to the hole. They shared words for one reason or another on the way back down the court for the Thunder’s possession, then on the next Toronto possession Johnson turned it over and shared words with Perk again before shoving him. Johnson got T’d up, KD drained the free throw, and I loved Perk just a little bit more. And then a few minutes later … wished he hadn’t gotten his own technical when he argued an offensive foul that Reggie Evans did a good job of selling.
- Toronto threw a zone at the Thunder for awhile in the first quarter. It worked for a couple of possessions until after a timeout Oklahoma City came back with a nice lob to KD and another backdoor cut that the Thunder botched. Then Toronto went back to man defense.
- I know there’s a strong feeling from a lot of folks that Harden needs to start. But I’m in the camp that likes where he is because of the scoring punch he provides with the second unit and the chemistry that the second unit has in general. OKC’s usual batch of five non-starters played solidly, if not as well as it could, against the Raptors’ second unit, which features Jerryd Bayless and his formidable bald spot. (Remember when lots of draftniks thought the Thunder should have taken Bayless over Westbrook? … Yeah. Glad OKC went with Jet Zero.)
- I kinda like Perkins and Nazr Mohammed playing together, which they did briefly again tonight. I don’t like it so much against Andrea Bargnani, but I think it warrants more experimentation.
- James Harden’s beard and ‘hawk > James Johnson’s beard and ‘hawk.
- Leandro Barbosa just murdered Oklahoma City tonight. He had 19 points in only 14 minutes and was so wide-open on a late 3-pointer that it made me sick.
- Just about everyone on the Toronto roster — well, other than Evans — seems to be a good ball handler. The Raptors’ big men gave their Thunder counterparts a lot of trouble when they put the ball on the floor on the perimeter.
- A quick aside: In the arena and on TV, the Thunder has been advertising “a limited number” of season tickets for sale. Teams always advertise for “a limited number” of tickets when there aren’t too many left. And that has always been a BIG pet peeve of mine. Of course it’s a limited number. There are only so many seats in the arena. If every single one was available, it would still be a limited number.
- Bargnani really exploited the Thunder’s inability to match up with him. There’s not a single player on the OKC roster who’s an ideal defender for him. That said, there aren’t too many guys in the NBA who are, but still. I’m glad there aren’t a lot of guys like him in the Western Conference playoff lineup.
- Durant missed seven straight shots from late in the second quarter through his only make in the fourth quarter. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was when the Thunder started to let the game get out of control.
- Harden brought the Thunder back into the game early in the fourth pretty much all by himself. He scored seven points at the line and had an assist on Oklahoma City’s first four possessions in the final frame and brought the crowd to life. Then after two scoreless possessions for OKC, he ripped a rebound away from Evans and assisted on another bucket, and added another point from the stripe on the next Thunder offensive possession.
- I liked how Perk sternly told Harden where to go on a fourth quarter jump ball … and then tipped it right to him.
- Free throws were a huge part of the Thunder comeback, with the team going 15-19 from the line in the fourth compared to 0-2 for Toronto. But missing those last two left the door open for the Raptors, and they took advantage.
The loss was basically inexcusable in a lot of ways. That said, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. As long as Oklahoma City bounces back with wins against the reeling Jazz and hapless Timberwolves, this one can just be dismissed as a one-game blip. And even in a loss, the Thunder still played decent defense for a lot of the game and held Toronto to only 43 percent shooting. So here’s hoping OKC can rebound and finish off the last four games of the homestand with purpose and pride.
Next up: Wednesday vs. Utah.