Thunder Take Down Toronto Behind Strong Second Half Defense

Sunday, March 8th 2015, 10:27 pm
By: News 9

It was a tale of two halves at The Peake Sunday night. Two halves, two approaches, two defensive mentalities, two results.

Oklahoma City overcame a lazy defensive effort in the first half to rally in the second half and get a big 108-104 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Sunday was the first in a nine-game stretch where the Thunder have eight home games. It's a very important stretch of games for OKC, as the Thunder are 21-8 at home this season and now 18-3 at home when Russell Westbrook is in the lineup. Four of the remaining seven home games are against teams under .500, so the Thunder have a huge opportunity to possibly build a bit of cushion in the race for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

After struggling mightily on the defensive end in Thursday's loss to Chicago, the Thunder were not good on that end once again in the first half on Sunday. The Raptors shot 49 percent, hit eight 3-pointers, and scored 13 points off 11 OKC turnovers for a grand total of 61 first half points.

The Thunder were lazy closing out on shooters and rotated very slowly, allowing Toronto to swing the ball around and end up with easy looks at the basket. This was especially true in the second quarter when Toronto scored 35 points and had 16 points in the paint.

After halftime, the Thunder made a change and began to be more aggressive on the defensive end. The Raptors had just 18 points on 6-of-21 shooting in the third quarter and had just 43 points in the second half. OKC also did a better job of closing out on shooters, holding the Raptors to 3-of-11 shooting from 3-point range in the second half.

That change in mindset was the key difference in the game because OKC had no problems scoring against Toronto. The Thunder shot 51.2 percent from the field and outrebounded the Raptors, 49-33. OKC had three players score at least 20 points and got a very balanced production from everyone else who played. If not for the 18 turnovers, it probably would have been a fairly straightforward win.

Russell Westbrook chalked up another triple-double, scoring 30 points and dishing a career-high 17 assists while grabbing 11 rebounds. As good as he was, Westbrook nearly had a quadruple-double with turnovers. He finished with nine, but only two of those came after halftime, a big reason why the Raptors found points harder to come by in the second half.

Enes Kanter had another double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Kanter's chemistry with Westbrook was on display again Sunday night, as the two worked the pick-and-roll to great results once again.

Serge Ibaka had 21 points as well, and the Thunder got 30 points from the bench, including six points, six rebounds and two blocks from Steven Adams, who returned from a broken hand late in the first quarter to a raucous ovation.

DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 24 points, 16 of those coming in the first half. He didn't score until the 1:44 mark of the second half, when his eight points cut the OKC lead to 106-104 with 15.4 seconds left. Westbrook hit two free throws before DeRozan missed a deep 3-pointer to clinch the game for OKC.

Terrence Ross had 20 points and hit six 3-pointers, while four other Toronto players scored in double figures.

With all the firepower on the roster, it's become clear offense is not the problem in OKC. The Thunder have scored over 100 points in 16 straight games, the second-longest streak in the NBA this season.

Oklahoma City's playoff chances hang on its ability to play defense over the final 19 games of the season. Sunday showed the difference defense can make—it's the difference between playing in May and watching the playoffs on TV.