A 6-1 start by the Thunder would not have been predicted by many. Instead, growing pains were forecasted for this Thunder squad, and growing pains were what they experienced last night, losing 112-102 to the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors have been stellar so far in the early going–easily a top five team–and DeMar DeRozan has been a very large part of their success. DeRozan was the league’s scoring leader coming into the game (34.1 going into the game), and his 37 points on the night didn’t do anything to change that status. DeRozan is a player who lives and dies by his jumpshot, especially from midrange. He takes (and often hits) a number of difficult, contested shots, and that’s just what he did last night.
During the early going, DeRozan struggled to score in the face of Andre Roberson’s defense. After Roberson found himself in foul trouble, the floodgates opened, leading to a 42-28 second quarter that ultimately decided the course of the game,
Head coach Billy Donovan was asked about DeRozan’s game: “You know, sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat, and good offense can beat great defense,” Donovan said. “He had that happen several times where he made some very, very difficult shots.”
DeRozan shot 13-22 from the field and 11-15 from the free throw line. He also added four rebounds, six assists, and three steals. DeRozan has certainly raised some eyebrows with his play, and if he can sustain his performance–a big ‘if’ considering his streaky nature–he’ll be in the hunt for the MVP by the end of the season.
Russell Westbrook had a very Westbrook-esque game, and not in a great way: he scored 36 points, but shot just 9-26 (including 3-12 from the three-point line), and contributed eight turnovers. When Russ is at his best, he’s limiting the turnovers and the three-point shots. He’s already well on his way to being the worst three-point shooters among qualifying players in NBA history.
The Raptors employed a strategy that the rest of the league will key in on soon: they packed the paint. Despite missing the towering Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors’ bigs frustrated Westbrook by cramming the paint with bodies and forcing the Thunder to beat them from the perimeter with the likes of Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson. The Thunder desperately need some perimeter shooting to fix their spacing.
Although Oladipo is a career 34% three-point shooter, he’s actually been pretty good so far this season, shooting 40%. Against the Raptors, he hit 5-9 from deep. He also added eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Oladipo has improved each game as he continues to carve out his role. He’s been a streaky shooter throughout his career, so it remains to be seen if he can maintain his gaudy shooting from long-range.
After the game, Oladipo said it was the ‘little things’ that cost the game for OKC: missed rotations, turning the ball over, not getting back in transition. Fortunately, these are issues that are easily correctable. However, with each passing game, it becomes evident that personnel (or lack thereof) is a bigger issue than the little things.
The Raptors packed the paint like rush hour on the 405, and it was an effective game plan. Expect other teams to employ a similar strategy until the Thunder can bring in a player to help their spacing. While Enes Kanter is a great player, he simply can’t be employed effectively and often enough to be worth his ample salary. At some point, Presti has to consider moving him to bring in some shooting.
The Raptors improve to 5-2, while the Thunder fall to 6-2. Next up for the Thunder: the Los Angeles Clippers come to town on Friday. Tipoff is at 7 P.M. CST.