The High 5 is where I give my reaction to the night’s games. This includes a look at the players who made a difference in the outcome and some unique details that caught my attention.
The Thumb (The Story of the Game)
The Raptors face an interesting challenge this week as they go against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a rare home and home two game series. There are intriguing matchups and storylines up and down both lineups and it was a shame that the Raptors did not go into tonight’s contest healthy. If there was any team to test their physicality, focus, and intensity it’s the Thunder. Russell Westbrook is going to average a triple double for the season again, which is a severely underrated story and mind boggling to think of. On the wing, he is flanked by Paul George, a legitimate MVP candidate in his own right. Together, with a brute in Steve Adams and a collection of role players, they may actually pose a threat to the mighty Warriors to come out of the West. OKC is also bolstered by one of the rowdiest crowds in the league and were looking to bounce back after losing 3 in a row. This had all the ingredients of a delicious matchup and for Toronto, it didn’t disappoint. Even without their leader, the Raptors offense was humming as they received contributions from every player that saw the floor. OKC seemed confused and unprepared for Toronto’s unselfish play and suddenly hot shooting. However, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder came alive and staged an improbable comeback to force overtime. In the extra frame, the Thunder did not have enough left in the tank to keep up with the Raptors. Considering the opposition, this was one of Toronto’s most impressive wins of the year. OKC is no joke and being able to earn a quality road win against them is a remarkable feat. Coach Nurse should refer to this game tape any time his players doubt their resiliency.
Toronto 123 OKC 114 (overtime).
The Index (The Leader)
Kawhi Leonard looked ready to take on the challenge of going up against one of the premiere talents in the NBA, Paul George. He was down in his defensive stance, communicating and pointing on switches and fully engaged in the action. A nice indicator of his growth with this team is seeing him breaking down plays with Jeremy Lin on the bench. He was dribbling and attacking with authority. You can see that he is starting to unlock his playoff gear as his game continues to ascend. Kawhi acquiesced the scoring responsibility to Pascal, but he still had his fingerprints all over this game. He finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal. It looks like the Raptors chose the perfect time to start figuring out how to play with Leonard.
The Middle (The Enemy)
Future Hall of Famer, Russell Westbrook is building a legacy in OKC. He is a blur when he has the ball with aggressive drives and unrelenting attacks. Russell did it all for OKC and lived up to his reputation as one of the toughest players in the NBA. Trying to cover Westbrook is like trying to nurse a porcupine. Westbrook filled the stat sheet with 42 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal. His never say die attitude willed the Thunder back into a position to win with seconds to play. Despite the glaring number of turnovers (8), this was a monster game from Westbrook. If the Thunder had won, he would have easily been your player of the game. After all these years, he is still lightning quick with the ball, blink and you’ll miss him.
The Ring (The X Factor)
I gave Danny Green love after some hot shooting the other night, and it looks like he carried some of that into tonight’s game. He was a sniper from deep once again, this time knocking down 5 of his 9 three pointers to help spread the Thunder defenders. On top of that, Danny even mixed in a few drives including a nifty one-handed layup over Paul George. Danny works especially well playing off Kawhi, he knows exactly how to serve as an outlet and release option. Danny scored 17 points to go with 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. He has now put together a string of good games and is playing well as the season comes to its end.
The Pinky (The Unsung Hero)
Fred VanVleet steadied the backcourt in another fantastic game without Kyle Lowry. His shooting has been a godsend for the Raptors as it helps open space for Kawhi and Pascal to run wild. Fred also took advantage of players checking him too closely as he used his first step to get to the rim for sneaky layups. Fred scored 23 points on 8/16 shooting from the floor to go with 6 assists and 2 steals. VanVleet played with a chip on his shoulder and did not back down an inch in the face of hall of fame opposition.
Player of the Game
I think that the Thunder spent a little too much time scouting the bigger names on the Raptors roster and not enough on one of the fastest rising stars in the league, Pascal Siakam. Pascal took advantage of OKC’s lax defense and blitzed them all night for easy buckets. He is starting to hit the corner three with consistency which will no doubt give opposing coaches nightmares. His game was so impressive that the OKC commentators were marvelling at his contributions and were utterly confused at OKC’s inability to slow him down. Pascal scored a team high 33 points and added 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block. He sent a message with this game; Pascal Siakam has arrived.
- Classy Gesture – Nick Collison, the poster boy of the prototypical ‘role player’ for the NBA, had his number retired after spending his entire career with the Thunder/Sonics franchise. This was a nice move from the team to honour one of the most underrated and underappreciated players of his generation.
- No more fighting – Serge Ibaka made his return to the Raptors after serving his three-game suspension due to unnecessary fisticuffs. He also made his return to OKC; the team that drafted him and who gave him his first real taste of playoff success.
- What could have been – I always marvel at the fact that the Thunder once had Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka on their roster at the same time. Could you imagine if that group stayed together?
- Jurassic Park – The PA team at the Chesapeake hilariously introduced the Raptors to the theme of Jurassic Park.
The Raptors and Thunder face off for round two of their mini-series on Friday night at the Scotiabank Arena. Hopefully, Toronto will have Kyle Lowry back for what will no doubt be another exciting game.