'We just kept fighting': Thunder again resilient but can't come back from 30-point hole vs. Raptors
The Thunder’s valiant comeback fell short and some fans headed for the exits.
Then about 25 Earth minutes later, the Thunder’s valiant comeback fell short and some fans headed for the exits.
Confused? Everyone was Wednesday night at The ‘Peake, where Toronto beat the Thunder three times. The final score was 130-121, so the Raptors get credit for just one victory in the standings, but make no mistake, the Thunder was thrice beaten.
A team that memorably staged back-to-back comebacks from 26- and 24-point deficits a month ago (Chicago and Memphis) staged back-to-back incredible comebacks in a solitary game against the Raptors.
“We know if there’s time on the clock, there’s nothing that us as a group is not capable of,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “And it’s been a little bit of us in the past to get down a little bit. A lot, actually, to start games. We just gotta figure out a way to not let that happen.”
The Thunder trailed 73-43 with 1:30 left in the second quarter. The Thunder trailed 91-83 with 1:30 left in the third quarter. Math majors will decipher that in those 12 minutes, the Thunder played exquisite basketball.
But before and immediately after that 22-point swing, the Thunder didn’t take care of the ball and let the defending NBA champions have their way. Toronto’s lead was back up to 116-95 with 7:21 left in the game.
Might have been a good time for Billy Donovan to surrender so his squad could fortify for a tough stretch upcoming, especially since Steven Adams suffered a knee bruise early in the game and was unavailable.
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Except this is the Comeback Thunder. For some reason, this team never seems out of it.
In a four-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, OKC outscored Toronto 22-4, getting those 22 points on just eight possessions. Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schroder nailed consecutive 3-pointers; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Mike Muscala produced consecutive 3-point plays. Schroder scored on a drive, then Gallinari hit another 3-pointer, Chris Paul scored uncontested and Gallinari dunked and finished off another 3-point play.
Meanwhile, the Thunder defense finally had stiffened, and suddenly the Thunder trailed just 122-119 with 1:19 left.
“It took a lot out of our guys to get back in the game,” Donovan said. “I give them credit, to constantly battle and fight. Some guys off the bench really contributed. We just kept fighting. They have a mentality and an attitude they can get back into games.”
But then the Thunder failed to get stops. Pascal Siakam scored on an acrobatic drive, point guard Kyle Lowry drove in for a basket and then hit a 12-foot fadeaway. The Thunder spigot stopped, with three straight 3-point misses, and this game of two epic comebacks failed to generate a victory.
Blame it on the first half. The Thunder, with three quite careful and deliberate ballhandlers, committed 13 first-half turnovers, leading to 22 Toronto points. Schroder alone had four turnovers the first 13 minutes. That carelessness contributed to Raptor offense, and the Thunder defense collapsed.
The Raptors for the game shot 61.2%; they made 15 of 27 3-point shots and 31 of 47 shots in the paint. Toronto took just 11 of the dreaded mid-range shots.
“We’ve got to be able to play more consistently in that first half,” Donovan said. “We’ve been a really good team taking care of the basketball, but this first half, we dug ourselves a hole. The guys kind of regrouped in the locker room and came out and did a much better job.”
The Thunder was lost without Adams and his backup, Nerlens Noel. Muscala played 31 minutes and contributed 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, and his defense in the second half held up. The Thunder even played G-Leaguer Justin Patton 10 1/2 minutes. But OKC won’t last long against talented big teams like Toronto with Adams and Noel sidelined.
Of course, what goes around comes around. The Thunder won at Toronto in December without Schroder and Gallinari, but the Raptors played without Siakam, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol. That trio combined for 59 points on 24 of 35 shooting. So no one weeps for the Thunder.
And the Thunder won’t last long needing comebacks from 30 points down, even if this team has shown it is quite capable of such an uphill climb.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.