After losing four-straight games, one of which coming from the Toronto Raptors in Oklahoma City, the Thunder traveled to Toronto for payback, two days later.
Wednesday night, the Thunder shot horribly, didn’t defend Toronto well, thus allowing too much of a contribution from Toronto’s role players. On Friday night, things seemed to be a little tighter for the Thunder in all areas, and after being down for two and a half quarters, the Thunder revitalized their first quarter defense, capitalized on offense and found a way to defeat the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, 116-109. This win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Thunder.
The difference was ultimately OKC’s defense and the fact that more than one or two players shot the ball well. Throughout the game, OKC’s defense looked better than it did on Wednesday in the Peake. Other than a late run in the first quarter, OKC fared well in the first quarter. Another big run in the second quarter had the Thunder down 58-48 at the half and anybody that has seen the Thunder play over the last week had no reason to think they’d gain momentum in the second half.
That’s exactly what happened. The Thunder were going down the same path they went down in the first half through the first few minutes of the third quarter, but they turned their defense on, and their offense benefitted because of it. Their combination of defense and offense resulted in a 20-4 run to close out the third quarter and put OKC in the lead 83-80.
They only improved in the fourth. With momentum already on OKC’s side, they used that to withstand Toronto’s spurts of offense by sticking to what they’ve done well all season long and continued to defend and take better shots.
OKC forced 21 turnovers.
With a triple-double from Russell Westbrook and a big game from Paul George, Dennis Schröder, Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson, the Thunder found a winning formula. They played with a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor but weren’t frantic. They passed up good shots and made the extra pass to get the better shot, which resulted in OKC shooting 46.5 percent from three. Also, underrated fact; they shot 12-for-14 from the free throw line after shooting 15-for-29 in their first matchup with the Raptors.
Westbrook recorded his 28th triple-double of the season with 18 points, 13 assists, and 12 rebounds. George scored a team-high 28 points while adding six rebounds, five assists, and 2 steals. Jerami Grant and Dennis Schröder were the biggest surprises of the game, scoring a combined 45 points on 17-of-30 shooting, including 9-of-15 from three. In addition, the Thunder stole the ball 12 times, 4 of which came from Westbrook.
This is the Thunder team that fans fell in love with right before the all-star break. Can they finish the season out strong?