Canadians star against visiting Raptors
OKLAHOMA CITY — Outworked, outplayed and outhustled.
The Raptors have had some bad nights in the past, but rarely has it felt this hopeless.
Blame the sudden deep freeze in normally warmer-than-Toronto Oklahoma City or whatever you want, but this was nothing close to the standard the Raptors have established for themselves through the first 12 games of the season.
The Thunder, coming off a tough-to-swallow double overtime loss Wednesday to Milwaukee, which they seemed to have locked down in the win column, were flat out hungrier on this night and showed it in a 132-113 thumping of the visiting Raptors.
“We didn’t put up much resistance at the point of guarding the ball out front and then obviously at the end of it,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “I think they got 70 points in the paint … We weren’t worth a darn on defence most of the night.”
Following a sloppy first-quarter when the two teams combined for 15 turnovers, nine by the hosts, the Thunder took control in the second quarter with a 41-point outburst.
The Thunder were getting to the rim with ease and once there, finding little to no push back. When they did meet resistance, they kicked it back out to open shooters as Luguentz Dort and Eugene Omoruyi bombed away.
The Thunder were shooting a robust 65% from the field for that first half and wound up with a 70-56 lead through two quarters because of it.
All five Thunder starters were in double digits in scoring by the end of the third quarter.
With another game on the docket Saturday night in Indianapolis, Nurse didn’t both playing any of his regular starters at all in the final frame. Rookie Christian Koloko who has been starting in place of the injured Pascal Siakam, was the lone exception.
He didn’t have much choice with point guard Fred VanVleet, who was taken out late in the third and did not return due to a non-COVID illness.
“We were just very disconnected and un-energetic tonight,” Nurse said.
Nurse admitted post-game that VanVleet might not have been the only Raptor feeling the effects of a bug, but he didn’t want to use that as an excuse. The game set a new mark for points allowed in a game by the Raptors this season, easily breaking the old mark of 119 against Philadelphia and came within one of their worst halves when Miami scored 71 against them.
Nick Nurse was not about to start another round of tampering accusations.
But being in Oklahoma City for the first time this season, it was unavoidable that the head coach would be asked about the player who is arguably Canada’s top performer right now the day after the Canadian National Senior Men’s team officially qualified for this summer’s World Cup with a win over Venezuela Thursday in Edmonton.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was obviously not in the lineup for that one, but the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard will be a huge part of whatever Canada accomplishes this summer.
Nurse is clearly a big fan of Gilgeous-Alexander and became a bigger one seeing his game up close and personal when he played with Canada.
“You always learn more about guys when you kind of have them in your own camp, but he was – I think we knew he was incredible with the ball and can get it about anywhere he wants to get it so he was incredible offensively, just scoring and really setting up our shooters,” Nurse said. “The thing that really impressed me though, was he literally shut out any night we played, the other team’s leading scorer. He really guarded, really played both ends at a super high level.”
Through the first 10 games of the season Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.6 points a night and shooting just under 54% from the field.
It’s not a surprise that Nurse though would go to the defensive end first as Gilgeous-Alexander’s reputation for his offence is already well-established throughout the league.
“He has got as good a first step as there is in the league. When you square him up to guard him, he’s by you fast,” Nurse said. “The speed that he has got getting by you and then to the rim is at an elite level. So, it happens faster than anybody is used to – just athleticism and quickness.
And then again, he’s grown in his game,” Nurse said. “Maybe his first couple of years it was sprint to the rim, lay it in every time and that was his move. Now he has really good control of his 6-8-10-12-foott area too when he needs to get to two feet and stop and then he’s got a little turnaround on the block too.”
In short Gilgeous-Alexander is a problem at both ends of the court.
Already down Pascal Siakam, the Raptors are now looking at a potentially long-term absence from Precious Achiuwa who strained multiple ligaments in his ankle in Wednesday’s win over Houston, was Nurse’s first or second call from his bench on most nights.
Nurse said he’ll be looking even more towards Chris Boucher along with veterans Otto Porter Jr. and Thad Young to carry that second unit.
Boucher, who was so dominant the first seven or eight games of the season in those minutes has had a few down nights of late, but Nurse is hoping the changes he’s forced into making with that second unit rotation will have a positive effect on Boucher.
“I’m hoping a little change in that rotation here will get Chris back on track,” Nurse said. “He had been giving us every single night his A-plus game. Again, we know you’re not going to get that every single night with every guy, but I hope tonight with an extended – he’s going to have to play a long rotation tonight and I hope that helps him.”
Boucher have been primarily attached to Achiuwa’s through the early part of the schedule, and while Boucher admits he enjoys playing with Achiuwa and will miss him while he’s out, he was also quick to point out that he has had success before Achiuwa arrived on the scene and is capable of doing that again.