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Injury-riddled Thunder prosper late, strike Raptors 113-103

With seven members out for the Thunder, the team rallied back late to edge the Toronto Raptors 113-103 in the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City’s victory sits themselves into the 13th seed in the West, currently propped on a 20-27 record. Toronto slipped away late in yet another contest Wednesday night dropping their fourth game in a row, and the last 9-of-10 games. The Six now is tied for the sixth best draft odds at 18-30.

Oklahoma City’s first quarter lead was about as thin as the Bally Sports scoreboard as the Thunder boasted a lead until the 9 minute, 36 second mark — then watched it slip away en route to a 32-30 deficit through twelve. Toronto shot out the gym to begin the game converting on 6-of-11 three point attempts while holding Oklahoma City to a paltry 34.6% in the period. The Thunder had a rough go trying to surface a primary ball-handler in the second unit, but Mark Daigneault allowed everyone ample opportunity. Daigneault’s experimentation allowed for names in Josh Hall and Justin Jackson to leap out and drive a 15-3 run to close the quarter. 

Perseverance embodied the Thunder’s performance in the second quarter. Oklahoma City players found themselves smothered on shot attempts all period including a review-warranting fastbreak layup  where Stanley Johnson bearhugged Josh Hall on his way up. Despite this, the Thunder squad clawed for every extra possession for 6 offensive rebounds, highlighted by a Svi Mykhailiuk putback off a missed free throw. Oklahoma City’s scrappy style of play had its benefits, but lapses on defense allowed for Toronto’s ease of access inside (14 points in the paint,) ultimately leading 67-59 at half.

The Thunder sweeped the rebounding category through the first half 37-19 claiming 13 snags on the offense, but their 42% shooting (21-of-50) was simply not enough. Moses Brown overpowered Aaron Baynes with 12 points and 8 rebounds (7 offensive) while forwards Svi Mykhailiuk and Justin Jackson posted 10 a piece. Toronto netted 56 of their 67 points through just four players with Gary Trent headlining with 20 points (8-of-10 FG.) One trait common amongst all Raptors came from downtown, shooting 10-of-23.

The Thunder shaved the game to one four minutes into the period after Aaron Baynes received a technical foul clamouring over a “missed” Moses Brown over the back call. Sides remained deadlocked for the next two minutes however after two strenuous minutes Isaiah Roby captured the lead off a driving layup. Crossfire ensued in the following minutes but Theo Maledon broke the noise. The rookie performed a standing snatch block on a mal-intentioned Chris Boucher as the big man attempted to bottle two-handed poster driving through the lane. Maledon’s stop helped edge the Thunder to a four-point lead, however a Gary Trent Jr. buzzer beater to close the quarter sunk them back down 89-87.

Toronto’s poor 2-of-7 start opened the door for Oklahoma City to reclaim the lead three minutes into the period. Svi Mykhailiuk made a limitless triple midway through the period pushing the Thunder to their largest lead of the game at 8. The Thunder caught a couple of breaks including a close-call goaltend from Svi and a series of barren Raptors possessions, but with two to go, they sat up just six. Gary Trent Jr. freed himself open for a stepback jumper on the other end, but a missed shot resulting in two Moses Brown free throws on the other end sealed the game’s fate.

Toronto was in the forefront of the game the whole way, but 14 point effort in the closing period carved their loss in the stone. Gary Trent Jr. has continued to demolish the Thunder no matter the apparel, this time dropping a 31 point platter on 12-of-22 shooting. The Raptors surprisingly created 18 Thunder turnovers across the night, but shooting percentages in the mid thirties crushed their hopes, as their opponents hit a ripe amount of looks, hitting in the forties from both levels.

Oklahoma City rallied together despite no SGA, Dort, Bazley, or Pokusevski, using all nine of their members to pitchfork the victory.

“I thought the defense was really good… It was a team effort. We got contributions from all nine guys tonight. I thought we really played together, competed. That’s an aggressive tough team you have to play connected basketball against and I though we did that,” said Daigneault.

The Thunder reached their largest rebounding advantage of the season Wednesday 64-35 (19-7 offensive rebounding,) with 7-of-9 members hauling in an offensive rebound over the game’s course.

“I definitely think rebounding is [a] skill… We had a size advantage, so we were able to capitalize on offensive rebounds,” said Isaiah Roby.

Oklahoma City found seven members in double-digits by the night’s closure, but it was all Svi Mykhailiuk the entire night. Svi controlled the ball as a starter, posting a team-high 22 points (9-of-14 FG) and 9 rebounds in 35 minutes. The wing got in sync from inside, but also outside, tallying four made triples. Moses Brown matched the entire Raptors squad in offensive rebounding, ripping down seven a piece in this game, but Brown added more — tying the knot on a 20 point, 12 rebound effort. Brown toppled over 6-foot-10 Aaron Baynes, elevating over the 6-foot-10 big to collect second chance opportunities and free dunks under the basket. Isaiah Roby completed debatably his best performance of the year blossoming for 17 points (7-of-12 FG), 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. The sophomore flipped of a series of rim-rattlers, with holding it down inside, and even distributing the ball.

One major question mark entering this game focused on a lack of a ball-handler in the second unit. Given that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome, and Aleksej Pokusevski were all out for the contest, arrangements were made to surface ball duties behind Theo Maledon. Mark Daigneault split advancing the ball amongst Josh Hall, Isaiah Roby, Svi Mykhailiuk, and even Justin Jackson across the night — the end result displays in was a solid choice.

“We expect everybody on this team to be a playmaker,” said Daigneault. It’s no surprise as to why things panned out so smoothly, the coach is all for experimenting.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (20-27) will use Thursday to tinker their gameplan before teeing off their road-stand to face the Chris Paul-led Phoenix Suns (33-14) Friday night.

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