It might seem hard to believe, but the Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson was playing outstanding defense on the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant as the “Slim Reaper” (who hates that nickname) scored 51 points on 15-32 shooting in a double-overtime thriller and the visitors really had no business walking out of the Air Canada Centre with the 119-118 win. At the end, it was 2 improbable long range three-point shots by Durant that helped to wipe out an 8 point deficit with 49 seconds left in the game. Shots that wouldn’t have even mattered if Toronto’s veteran John Salmons could have hit his free throws in the final 10 seconds, Salmons bricks both attempts just before Durant hits the game winning bomb. All Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey could do was marvel at the Thunder’s superstar and hope for better luck from his veteran next time. All Salmons could do was sit facing his locker with a towel over his head – everyone has days like that.
The game had a lot of story lines, not the least of which was the Thunder had held back Russell Westbrook the night before in Cleveland so he wouldn’t have to play back-to-back games. Initially it was Westbrook and Durant carrying the scoring load for the Thunder, but early in the third quarter, Westbrook went down. It was an ordinary enough looking play, Westbrook gets the ball open at the three-point line and Kyle Lowry flies at him. It appears like Westbrook is trying to draw the foul by stepping towards Lowry and there is a knee-on-knee collision with Westbrook’s surgically repaired right knee. Westbrook immediately goes off limping. Postgame Head Coach Scott Brooks relayed that Westbrook said he was okay – he didn’t look it – and he’d be re-evaluated tomorrow.
For the Raptors, this was the very popular Johnson’s 500th NBA game and he had a big one. In just under 50 minutes, Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds on 12-19 shooting from the floor in a game where buckets where hard to come by. Johnson did a great job getting the ball out of Durant’s hands all game as the Raptors best defense was to let anyone but Durant shoot. As a team, the Thunder minus Durant were shooting under 35 percent from the field and Johnson’s defense kept giving the Raptors a chance, his 5 blocks and 2 steals were huge. To top things off, it was Johnson who tied the game 96-all near the end of the fourth quarter with the offensive rebound and put back to send things to overtime.
Despite the score, this was a titanic defensive battle with neither team shooting over 40 percent from the field through 48 minutes. The Thunder tried to go big in the first half and the Raptors didn’t just hold their own, they outplayed them, in part because of some huge contributions from Tyler Hansbrough off the bench. Two times Hansbrough blocked Serge Ibaka in the post and then ripped the ball away from him like a bully taking some little kids lunch money. The frustrated Ibaka picking up a technical foul and all Hansbrough said postgame was it wasn’t me this time, I didn’t do anything – but, yes he did.
Reggie Jackson had to pick up the slack once again with Westbrook out of the picture and the Thunder guard produced. The only other real scoring threat on his team besides Durant, Jackson had 25 points, 12 rebounds and got to the free throw line 10 times.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan scored 25 and 33 points respectively, but they had to do it on a volume of shots. The Thunder defense was tough and the biggest beneficiary was Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez was hot, 9-11 from the field for 21 points as the Thunder were not going to let Lowry or DeRozan beat them. The Raptors backup point guard had 7 fourth quarter points and was 2-2 for 4 points in the second overtime when he was fouled out on an All-Star gift call. Durant flew at him as he was lining up a three-point shot and Vasquez got hit with the offensive foul. Now that call was offensive. Not only did Toronto lose the free throws they should have got and Vasquez for the reminder of the game, but because Terrence Ross was sitting with a hip contusion, the 0-4 shooting Salmons closed out the second overtime and had a turnover to go with his 2 missed free throws during the dying seconds.
It became obvious during this game why the Thunder had acquired Caron Butler. He plays defense at a level their young wings can only dream about right now. Butler was 1-9 shooting, but when he fouled out near the end of the first overtime and Jeremy Lamb entered the game, the Raptors immediately found their offense and it wasn’t until Vasquez fouled out that the Thunder could stop it. When you have Kevin Durant on the perimeter, scoring isn’t your team’s biggest concern.
“I thought we really dominated during the overtime and at the end he just hit some big time shots,” Vasquez said. “If you got Kevin Durant on your team, you are safe. You know, he’s like Jesus. At least he makes unbelievable shots. It’s funny because we went to high school together and now I see his development and how he plays in this league and he probably has to be the best player in the world right now.”
It was a tough loss for the Raptors and could become a bitter victory for the Thunder. Ross’ hip contusion will be re-evaluated in the morning, but it was believable was Ross said it wasn’t nothing. The same can’t be said about Westbrook’s injury.
Kings Quincy Acy: From Energy Guy To Offensive Threat
“I am on the court for more minutes (now),” Acy said. “So I get a chance every now and then to shoot a jump shot and stuff like that. From the opening (game), (Malone) encouraged me to take (the shot), but obviously not to force anything.”
Former Raptors Forward Ed Davis Grounded in Memphis
“Even though I am not playing right now,” Davis said. “If I see something on the court, I’ll tell (Randolph) or Marc – the double team is coming from the baseline or the double team is coming from wherever. I have a great basketball mind myself, so we help each other. I can see a lot of things that they are not seeing because they are out there on the court so I try to help them as much as I can as they help me.”