3 Thunder Takeaways: Thunder Outduel Raptors In Battle For The Draft Lottery

Wednesday, March 31st 2021, 10:58 pm
By: Nate Kotisso


Oklahoma City’s roster revamp has been well-documented here and elsewhere, but the overhaul of the Toronto Raptors has been nothing short of stunning.

For years, the Raptors were seen as a franchise for the future. This culminated in the team’s winning of the 2019 NBA title thanks in large part to claw machine Kawhi Leonard and a seemingly capable cast of thousands.

Plucked from relative basketball obscurity, then-rookie NBA head coach Nick Nurse became a shining example for future NBA coaches to come. Even as Leonard departed for sunny Southern California to link with former Thunder forward Paul George, the Raptors kept moving right along. They finished second in the Eastern Conference with 53 wins and lost a second-round seven-game series to Boston last summer in the Orlando bubble.

Life hasn’t been so simple for the Raptors this season. They let center Marc Gasol walk in free agency and traded guard Norman Powell, who’s having his best year as a pro, at the trade deadline last week. They haven’t been able to overcome a slow start to the year.

Earlier this month, Nurse was fined by the league for throwing his facemask and cursing at officials. Three days later, on March 24, Nurse and forward Pascal Siakam had a heated exchange that resulted in Siakam being fined.

The Raptors’ ongoing issues appear to have influenced their play Wednesday. The Thunder, who trailed by as many as 12 points in the first quarter, finalized a 113-103 comeback win at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

First Takeaway: Giving It What They Got

It was just two short weeks ago when the Thunder featured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and Al Horford in the starting lineup against the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta. It would be the last time the three would play in a regular season together.

Horford, who will continue to train, mutually agreed with the team to be shut down for the rest of the season. Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said Wednesday that Gilgeous-Alexander will be reevaluated in mid-April due to an ever-worsening plantar fasciitis injury he suffered on March 22. Dort has been out since Saturday due to a concussion.

These injuries and moves, in addition to the trading away of rotation pieces George Hill and Hamidou Diallo in recent weeks, have essentially sealed the Thunder’s fate for the remainder of the 2020-21 regular season. However, this doesn’t mean Thunder players don’t believe they have something to play for.

The most telling stats from Wednesday came via rebounding and second chance points. OKC’s starting lineup of Svi Mykhailiuk, Theo Maledon, Kenrich Williams, Isaiah Roby and Moses Brown grabbed 46 rebounds as a collective. Ten Toronto players who saw the floor Wednesday combined for just 35 rebounds. OKC also boat raced Toronto to the tune of a 30-9 advantage in second chance scoring. 

Whew, Toronto. That was a stinker.

Second Takeaway: ‘Bally’hooed Debut

Whether you tuned in for the first time in a long time or knew this day was coming, perhaps you noticed a slight difference in the presentation of tonight’s Thunder-Raptors game.

Gone is the familiar Fox Sports Oklahoma branding. Say hello to Bally Sports Oklahoma.

Bally Sports OklahomaImage Provided By: Bally Sports Oklahoma

The reason for the rebrand stems from 2019. It was then that The Walt Disney Company purchased much of 21st Century Fox (which also owned its regional sports networks including Fox Sports Oklahoma), but Disney had no interest in owning or operating the networks. The Walt Disney Company then sold the networks to the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Wednesday is the nearly two-year realization of the regional sports networks’ rebranding, but who’s counting?

So what’s different exactly? Not much, really. The company said viewers can continue to see the same programs and teams it had before.

Viewers of a certain age will also have to fight the urge to confuse the network with the name of a chain of gyms that went belly-up at the end of the 2000s.

Bally Sports ClubsImage Provided By: AP

If you’re wondering if the rebrand means the network will suddenly reappear on your pay-for-TV streaming service like YouTube TV, Sling TV or Hulu with Live TV, you are out of luck.

But, yay, I guess! Rebranding!

Third Takeaway: Thank ‘Lu’ For Being A Friend

As distribution of COVID-19 vaccines becomes more readily available in Oklahoma, some Thunder players did their part by receiving their shots Tuesday.

This is good and is worthy of celebration, but one picture provided by the team warmed our hearts a little more.

Let News 9’s Robin Marsh and Lacie Lowry tell you all about it.

This just in: Needles can be scary and they hurt, but it didn’t matter to SGA as much as helping curb the spread of the virus.

Kudos to OU Health, but a special kudos to Lu Dort for supporting his teammate when he needed him most.

It’s been a rough 12 months – for some more than others. This is the wholesome content we deserve.