By: A. Suave Francisco/InsideThunder.com.
On Christmas night, defense won the game for the Thunder. Two days after Christmas, it was a combination of superb offense and again, a great defensive effort that won OKC their sixth-straight game, this time against the Toronto Raptors who sit in the Eastern Conference’s passenger seat, 124-107.
The Chesapeake Energy Arena was literally on fire tonight. Not sure if there’s a correlation but the Thunder shot lights out, and a light in the rafters blew out and ignited in flames halfway through the third quarter.
The story on the offensive end was the big three; Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, who shot a combined 55.5 percent for the game. Oklahoma City started the game shooting 9-of-11 from the field and leading the Raptors 16-4, which got OKC’s confidence going. Despite a 34-16 Toronto run with a line-up featuring a lowly Paul George, playing with the bench, the Thunder managed to regroup in the second quarter behind Westbrook and George’s 26 combined quarter points.
After a scuffle during the second quarter between Westbrook and Jonas Valanciunas, stemming from the basketball itself and not wanting to give it up, Westbrook’s game was on fire. That’s what jump-started he and George’s run to end the half.
While the team chopped at Toronto’s defense through the second quarter, Andre Roberson was figuring out how to defend Toronto’s lead-Raptor, DeMar DeRozan. To start the game, Roberson got caught on a couple pump fakes from DeRozan and picked up two early fouls and was forced to the bench at the five-minute mark. That knocked him out of the game until the 9:30 mark of the second quarter.
All the time Roberson spent on the bench, he was figuring out a way to guard DeRozan and it came to fruition near that half’s end and parlayed into the second half.
When the Thunder offense extended the lead in the third quarter, outscoring Toronto 36-25, Andre Roberson was the difference defensively. He held DeRozan to 4-of-16 (25 percent) shooting for just 15 points, significantly less than his 24.1 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting average for the season. Without DeRozan, Toronto had nothing but C.J. Miles, who had a spectacular game off the bench with 20 points but stood no chance against OKC’s starting five offensively.
The Thunder offense has looked more consistent and the defense looks increasingly lethal and a nuisance for the NBA’s best offensive teams. Houston has the No. 1 offense in the NBA, Toronto has the No. 4 defense, and the Thunder just outscored both, while holding them under their season average. The Thunder got off to a lackluster start but have rebounded well in the month of December. They are (12-3) in the month and are clicking on all cylinders. Oklahoma City is just as dangerous as any team in the NBA right now.
Feature photo: Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images.