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After a long stretch of the unlikely for the Toronto Raptors (12-22), they finally had a game that went just about as expected. Few could have predicted their recent run of eight wins in nine games, nor would many have foreseen the team's disappointing home loss to Sacramento on Friday. And yet, Sunday's 104-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder came about in predictable fashion - a decent-albeit-inconsistent effort against a team that, well, is significantly better (my pick was 101-89, the right point differential but three points shy on both teams).
Both Kevin Durant (22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Russell Westbrook (23 points, seven assists) offered Toronto fans flashes of superstar greatness, but it was the Thunder's rebounding prowess and dominance of the paint that proved to be the difference. After a tightly contested first half, OKC blew things open with a 16-2 run as part of a 26-17 third quarter and didn't look back to improve their record to a league-best 26-7.
Anderson's primary responsibility on Sunday afternoon was to try and keep Durant in check. He did so reasonably effectively (Durant was held to his lowest scoring output in his past eight games and to his lowest number of shot attempts - 11 - since November 26). But Anderson wound up being more effective on offence than on the defensive end. His 27 points on 10-14 shooting (4-8 from three-point range) were good enough to make him the game's highest scorer. Anderson was right in the thick of the team's second quarter rally, scoring 19 points on 7-8 shooting and 4-5 from three to keep the Raps alive even as DeMar DeRozan (4-16 for 11 points) was being locked down.
The Paint Problem
Outside of the enigma that is Andrea Bargnani, it's hard to think of a more vexing, puzzling season-long issue than Toronto's struggles in the paint. On more nights (or days) than not, they have been on the wrong end of the rebounding and points in the paint battles. It's hard to know where to point the finger of blame, as injuries have really only cost them a rookie (Jonas Valanciunas) and a non-existent presence on the glass (Bargnani), while both Ed Davis and Amir Johnson have had largely productive seasons. Against the Thunder, the Raps trailed significantly in both key front court categories (rebounds: 41-31, PIP: 46-32). In all, four visitors (Durant, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins) finished with seven of more rebounds, to just one for the Raps (Johnson, with nine).
Injuries Start to Add Up
I might have been dismissive of the role of injuries on Toronto's front line in the previous paragraph, but they can still be awfully pesky. Case and point: Terrence Ross was lost in the third quarter to a sprained left ankle, an injury that threatens to stunt the considerable development of the 2012 first rounder over the past month. Also causing problems on Sunday was the loss of Aaron Gray (flu), whose absence forced Johnson into the starting five and left the team with no legit back-up big men (Quincy Acy remains too raw and Landry Fields, who filled in at the 'four' off the bench, was clearly ill-suited and over-matched in the role).
- Cool moment before the game: Kyle Lowry running into a visiting Alvin Williams, who has played a mentor role throughout Lowry's NBA career as as fellow Villanova alum. The two had a quick discussion and a nice embrace, as Lowry displayed a soft side which has been rarely seen during his tenure in Toronto.
Next Up: The Raptors' next chance to right the ship comes on Wednesday when the Philadelphia 76ers come to town (7:00pm). The Sixers are one of three teams that currently stand between the Raptors and the Boston Celtics, the current No. 8 seed in the East, making Wednesday crucial if the playoffs are even a pipe dream in Toronto.
Prediction: Raptors 110, Sixers 100 (22-7 this season)