April 8, 2012
Raptors no match for Thunder
By Ryan Wolstat, QMI AGENCY
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Raptors had no business being in a game with the Thunder on Sunday night and once the final quarter approached — they weren’t.
An eight-minute scoring drought and 24-0 spanning the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth broke open what had been a hard-fought contest and gave the West-leading Thunder a 91-75 win.
Kevin Durant gets most of the press — and he was solid with 23 points, along with Russell Westbrook, who had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists, but it was James Harden who dominated the game.
Harden scored 17 points — 12 in the fourth and added four assists and some tight defence on DeMar DeRozan who went 6-for-22 from the field.
“Three all-stars,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said, correcting a reporter who had mentioned the Thunder’s two all-stars.
The Raptors, who lost Andrea Bargnani for the second half due to a flare-up of his calf injury, battled the Thunder starters tooth and nail early, forcing all kinds of turnovers, but things changed once Harden, the NBA’s premier reserve and the rest of the bench entered in the first half.
Even more noticeably, Harden imposed his will during the aforementioned run late in the third, which began with the Thunder up only three points.
Then the visitors collapsed, giving up 24 straight — one shy of the team record set twice, most recently, back in 2000 against the Charlotte Hornets.
That spoiled all the good work from earlier in the game by the visitors.
“Like being hit by a train going from Oklahoma City to Dallas,” Casey said of the run.
“We can play them 10 out of 10 times and the results probably wouldn’t be different. But like I told the guys, I’m looking for 10 guys to compete, to fight, to scratch, to claw going down.
“I didn’t feel like we were competing. That’s what we’re looking for these last few games.”
They were early — going at an angry Thunder squad that had dropped a season-high three straight coming in and even early in the third without Bargnani, who had been the best Raptor to that point.
“The calf was starting to give me problems again. This morning it was tight, but during the game it was getting more sore,” said Bargnani, who is day-to-day and will consult with the medical staff about where to go from here.
In the end, the difference in talent level between the two franchises — made far more glaring once Bargnani left — was visible, along with a difference in compete level.
“No matter who is on the court, you still need to have an attention to detail. Those breakdowns, they can’t happen,” said the irritated coach, pointing out an easy skip pass from Durant to a wide open Daequan Cook to end the third that “opened the floodgates.”
LOSING PAID OFF
There are many examples of franchises losing for years and never turning the corner — but Oklahoma City is an example of just how significantly things can rebound with some lottery magic. The former Seattle Sonics got perennial MVP front-runner Durant second overall, took a chance on now superstar point guard Westbrook at four and grabbed Harden No. 3 overall.
The core was surrounded with tough-minded, experienced veterans plus draft gem Serge Ibaka and has taken off.
Toronto hasn’t “tanked” to get players of that caliber the way many fans wanted, but still has a No. 1 overall selection (Bargnani); a guy many think would have gone second or third this year (Jonas Valanciunas); and two top 10 selections (DeRozan, 9th and whoever gets taken this summer).
BACK FROM THE PINE
James Johnson returned early in the first quarter, having served his Casey-imposed two-game benching for an undisclosed team infraction. Johnson struggled, missing 9-of-11 shots … The Raptors missed a chance to finish a season at .500 against the West for the first time since 1999-2000, finishing at 8-10.
RAPTORS AT PACERS
MONDAY, 7 P.M.
Andrea Bargnani vs. David West
After slumping upon returning to the Raptor lineup, Bargnani has found his form of late. Unfortunately for the Raptors he injured his calf muscle Sunday night against Oklahoma City and may not play.
West has become a very good role player with Indiana (fourth on the team in scoring) instead of the star he was in New Orleans, but is a pivotal piece. He often has success against the Raptors, including a game-winning shot earlier in the season.
Indiana is one of the biggest and deepest teams in the NBA. Roy Hibbert earned an all-star berth and blocks nearly two shots a game, while Danny Granger and Paul George combine to average nearly three steals. Leandro Barbosa has struggled in 13 games since coming over from the Raptors, shooting just 41% from the field.
DID YOU KNOW?
Indiana is an excellent 12-6 at home against Eastern Conference opponents … DeMar DeRozan has averaged 22.5 points per game in two meetings with Indiana this year … Pacers have won 7-of-10.