OKLAHOMA CITY - The Raptors enjoyed the opening three minutes of Tuesday’s game against the Thunder.
The rest of the evening was a complete nightmare, with the final score being the least of Toronto’s problems.
The Raptors got crushed 108-88 by a Thunder team hungry to even its record and also lost top player Kyle Lowry to a dangerous looking right ankle sprain late in the first half.
Lowry stepped on Serge Ibaka under the hoop after nearly getting his head taken off by Hasheem Thabeet going for a rebound earlier in the game and was carried off of the floor, taking whatever life was left from a club he makes tick.
Lowry hobbled out of the Chesapeake Energy Arena in a “precautionary” walking boot and is considered day-to-day.
Head coach Dwane Casey could see a Thunder blitzkrieg coming.
“I think they’re 36-4 after a (home) loss, so they’re going to be a bunch of wet hens coming out tonight, ready to attack us,” Casey said earlier in the day.
Yep. The defending NBA finalists shot 61.1% in the first quarter and held the Raptors to 36.8% accuracy, 30%, forcing a team that was only averaging about 11 turnovers a game to cough it up 10 times in the first half.
The Thunder, at 1-2 like the Raptors, was off to its worst start since relocating from Seattle as the team struggled to adapt to life without James Harden.
It took OKC 15 games to lose three times last season and OKC also ended a three-game skid last season by beating the Raptors, who provided the tonic again.
Toronto hung around early by pushing the pace, but the Thunder turned things up several notches, most notably when Kevin Durant gave Jonas Valanciunas a rather rude introduction to the league with a massive dunk.
Though Casey said “I didn’t recognize our team tonight,” and bemoaned a lack of resiliency, the one thing he loved, was the play of Valanciunas, who turned in his best performance yet.
Valanciunas had 18 points and six rebounds, frustrating veteran Kendrick Perkins.
The rookie said Durant’s dunk motivated him.
“I don’t want to punch something or (anything when it happened), but you know, what happened (is) what happened. Next time maybe it will be opposite.”
Casey was disappointed the Raptors, aside from Valanciunas, didn’t play hard on defence or on the boards when their shots weren’t falling.
The team concentrated on OKC’s stars, leaving Thabo Sefolosha open, and he burned Casey’s gang, nailing three threes in a row, important since Durant was in the midst of an off-night, scoring half of his usual totals.
A 1-for-14 shooting stretch buried the Raptors and Lowry’s injury put the nail in the coffin.
Digging deep for positives, there were some offensively for the visitors.
Andrea Bargnani arose from his early season slumber with his best quarter of the year in the first and Valanciunas and Terrence Ross got extended run and were effective.
Ross started 3-for-3 and finished with 10 points.
The negatives stretched far and wide, but 1-for-6 shooting from Landry Fields and 2-for-10 from DeMar Derozan helped explain Toronto’s horrid field goal percentage on the night.
The Lowry injury ruined what would have been a great mano a mano matchup between him and Westbrook. Both players said before the game that they were in for a challenge.
Westbrook finished with 19 points and eight assists and Ibaka had 17, missing only a single shot.
GETTING OUT THE VOTE
Casey hoped the Raptors got out to vote in the U.S. election.
“I told our guys, I hope they did take the opportunity to vote because it’s a vote that hasn’t always been there it’s an opportunity to go and take advantage of a privilege and a right their grandparents and great-grandparents probably didn’t have.”
Lowry confirmed he voted for Obama and several other Raptors went to the polls as well.
“I think it’s big. I voted last time, when Obama won,” DeRozan said.
“It’s big for us to vote, especially for our country, even though we represent two countries, it’s good that we get a chance to vote,” he said, before adding with a laugh that some of his younger teammates “probably aren’t old enough (to vote).”
Talk about a boo boo. After chatting a bit pre-game with Westbrook, this reporter made the mistake of talking about the Miami Heat locker room within earshot of Westbrook, who still, understandably, has not gotten over the Finals loss to the Heat.
“That’s a bad word around here, that’s a very bad word,” Westbrook said, clearly not exactly joking.
It’s a good thing the Raptors beat Minnesota on Sunday, because otherwise the team could be looking at an 0-5 record after Wednesday’s game in Dallas. Though the Raptors shouldn’t be written off in Big D, the team will have to beat a tough squad without Lowry even though this will be the fourth game in five nights.