The Raptors walked into a trap Tuesday night.
The Thunder weren’t only seeking a win. Actually, yeah, that’s exactly what they were after. When you’re 1-2 with the panic attackers ready to pounce, winning is the only thing stopping the bleeding.
But more than just winning, punishing an opponent and feeling good about themselves was going to be a big plus. The Thunder have been saying they were lacking energy and effort, so from the tip Tuesday night, they made sure to bring an edge to the way they played. And that was evident with the way the Thunder played in the first quarter. They played angry. There was a clear sense of urgency from tipoff that this wasn’t going to be more fodder for the worried minority to run with.
“I thought the start was a big part of our win tonight,” Scott Brooks said. “We’ve talked about this the past few days to start the game with a defensive mindset, a game of toughness and I thought we did that in that first quarter.”
The funny thing though about Oklahoma City’s 108-88 win over Toronto is that it really didn’t feel like the Thunder played that great of a game. It honestly seemed to be more about how terrible the Raptors were.
“We don’t change how we approach the game,” Brooks said. “We had a tough loss last game. But we’re not a team that’s going to put our heads down and run from what we need to work on. And if we have a good win we’re not going to all of sudden puff our chests out and say we’re good now. We’re a solid team. We play together, we play hard and we work on the things that we need to work on.”
Russell Westbrook was pretty good with 19 points and eight assists, Serge Ibaka scored a season-high 17 on 7-of-8 shooting and KD had a season-low 15 on just 4-of-11 shooting. There wasn’t a real standout performance from anyone, nothing all that notable individually other than Hasheem Thabeet almost got to run a one-man fast break before he fell down.
Where the Thunder put their stamp was defensively. Absolutely nothing came easy for the Raptors. Every pass was a challenge. Every shot was contested. OKC tried to make dribbling a chore. Toronto shots just 35.7 percent from the floor, turned it over 17 times and looked entirely lost on the offensive end. And I think that was more of a credit to OKC’s defense than anything else.
With the outcome pretty much decided after a quarter, it became more about the little things. It’s the fourth game of the season and Brooks used it to try some new lineups. He went with Hasheem Thabeet as his first man off the bench tonight replacing Perk, and then Kevin Martin a few minutes later replacing Serge Ibaka. The Thunder haven’t played small all that much this season, but when they deployed it tonight, it ripped the Raptors up.
Brooks even tried Perry Jones III in the regular rotation again, using him in the second unit group with Eric Maynor, Martin, Nick Collison and Thabeet. The result? No offense. Jones wasn’t involved in anything and it was basically Maynor trying to manufacture something out of nothing in a pick-and-roll with Collison. I think Jones needs a place on the floor, but it’s on him to get involved in the game. He’s one of those players that if you could take DeAndre Liggins’ attitude and motor and put it in him, you might have a star.
Another game down, back to .500 and something to feel better about. And that’s about it.
- The most interesting thing from the game: On a technical foul, Kevin Martin took the free throw with Kevin Durant also on the floor. It makes sense as Martin is a higher percentage free thrower than Durant, but KD has always taken the freebies in the past.
- I’ve been really disappointed with the home crowds thus far this season. There’s just not much energy. Granted, the games haven’t been marquee — Portland, Atlanta and Toronto — but something is lacking. During big runs there isn’t the same noise, the same intensity. I fear Thunder fans are growing up and becoming NBA fans.
- Westbrook is one of those rare players that gets a technical called on him even after the call goes in his favor. We need a name for this.
- Eric Maynor played better, I think. He had some rough stretches, and missed some shots badly, but overall, he looked a but more like himself. He had the floater working, which is a beautiful thing.
- Jeremy Lamb is so smooth it looks like he might fall asleep midshot.
- Dwane Casey thought the Thunder traveled every time they put the ball on the floor. EVERY time. Literally.
- Martin missed his first free throw of the season. Really thought he’d never miss one ever.
- Not one, but TWO assists for Serge Ibaka tonight.
- And 24 assists total for the Thunder.
- Another moderately impressive performance from Hasheem Thabeet. He matched his career high in points with 10, which also is the first time since his rookie season (78 games) that he’s reached double-figures. And only the fourth time in his career.
- KD’s dunk on Jonas Valanciunas >>>>
- I asked Scott Brooks pregame if he thought the team was lacking any excitement, in that it wasn’t too long ago where they were playing in the NBA Finals against the Heat and now they’re in November playing Tuesday night games against the Raptors. “That’s a good question. There’s no question that when you get to the NBA Finals you’re at the highest level,” Brooks said. “But the process to get back has to start at the beginning of the season. And our guys have done a good job of understanding that the process of work every day. There’s no guarantee that June excitement will come back, we have to work for it and there are a lot of steps ahead.”
- KD came out clearly more aggressive calling hit own number. He took shots on his first two touches, both semi forced. He only finished with 11 total, but he did seem to have more of an eye towards scoring.
- I was really hoping a player would have an “I Voted” sticker on their jersey tonight.
- Swell touch by the Thunder playing the Jurassic Park theme during the Raptors’ starting lineups.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “I got three words for you. Asking me to rappel off a 300 foot office tower? NO. THANK. YOU.”
- Bonus BD line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “Serge just walks into KD’s house and takes his food. “I want me a pop tart!”
Next up: At the Bulls Thursday.