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Thunder spiral to short-handed Raptors 112-106

Entering Sunday’s contest, the Toronto Raptors were caught red-handed violating “league resting policies,” it appears that did not matter facing the Thunder. Toronto stood firm with their heavy-loaded injury list holding back Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam from play, but it didn’t stop them from the victory — winning 112-106. Oklahoma City now sits atop the league’s largest losing streak, continuing their winless April with their tenth-straight loss. The franchise ranks fifth in projected lottery standings set with a 20-37 record. Toronto’s victory kept themselves in a three-way tie for the eight through ten seeds in lottery projections, sharing a 9-game hole behind first place at 24-34.

With 11 lead changes and 3 ties, the Thunder’s 31-28 first-quarter lead was packed with uncertainty, but two men stood firm all twelve minutes — Lu Dort and Chris Boucher. Dort illuminated the Thunder rattling off a single-quarter career-high with 21 points. Dort not only became the seventh Thunder player to post a 20-plus point quarter, but he also broke his previous career-high of 18 points set Tuesday. Toronto never found an answer for the Canadian, going a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor draining five threes. In response, Chris Boucher generated 17 points (6-of-9 FG) at all three-levels shooting a red-hot 3-of-5 from distance highlighted by a stepback jumper that left Aleksej Pokusevki on the floor. Marksmanship from the perimeter seeped into both teams for a collective 12 threes.

Oklahoma City’s “bench mob” made soundwaves on the second quarter’s onset, accruing a double-digit lead off of three consecutive triples. The Thunder mounted a double-digit lead for the better part of the frame dousing the Raptors with cross-court assists, including an Isaiah Roby mid-air save, darting the ball from the right corner inside for a quick two. The Raptors seeped into the contest congesting the perimeter and even dwindling their deficit to four off five straight Gary Trent Jr. points. Ultimately the Thunder clapped right back with an 8-2 run, but a right-wing buzzer-beater from Chris Boucher cut the game to 59-52 at the half. 

The first half was driven from the three-ball as Oklahoma City 9-of-17 (52.9%) while Toronto shot 8-of-21 (38.1%.) The Thunder paved their lead through with a poignance of distributing the ball, out assisting the Raptors 15-to-9.

The first play of the third had to be restarted after neither the shot nor game clock began, however, the end result reflected a familiar face — a made triple. The Raptors carved a one-possession hole following three triples two minutes later, but a Lu Dort and-one not only padded their deficit but also left Chris Boucher needing to collect himself with an injured jaw. Ultimately, Boucher returned up-and-running and helped prop Toronto a point behind before a Pokusevski finger-roll layup. This game of cat-and-mouse continued as for every Raptor bucket, Pokusevski would record a mind-boggling highlight. That changed at the three-minute mark as Pokusevski was pulled from the floor at three minutes following a groin-shot at the basket that netted Toronto not just free throws — but the lead. Six more lead changes followed Toronto’s first strike, but they also swiped last, carrying an 81-80 advantage entering the fourth. 

The officiating crew wasn’t bartering for any physically to begin the fourth whistling three charges in the first two minutes. The Thunder’s second unit (plus Bazley) was not conforming to the ref’s ideals instead keeping the same pace, as usual, to reclaim the lead off an 8-2 spurt. Toronto quickly recovered from this brief deficit staking an advantage, but no streak acclimated, resulting in even more lead changes. Respective clubs rolled out their starting fives at the midway point and with the pace remaining — it became apparent this would end with fireworks. Chris Boucher struck the first major punch, nailing a catch-and-shoot left-wing three before dialing in an inside layup for a 107-102 lead facing the two-minute warning. Boucher’s mini-run would’ve stacked to steal following a Gary Trent Jr. dogpile steal but with his right-heel grazing the out-of-bounds line — the play was ruled void. Lu Dort capitalized off Toronto’s missed opportunity crashing into Chris Boucher for two free throws, nailing both with 33.4 seconds to play. After Toronto called a timeout to advance the ball, Gary Trent Jr. was given the ball wedged right in front of the timeline. Trent Jr. was attacked at the hip by Lu Dort at time ticked but a Khem Birch screen laid out Dort, and after sinking into the lane he found a wide-open Chris Boucher who stuck the left-wing triple barring 11.2 seconds of usage. Dort found a cutting Isaiah Roby for an easy cutting jam, but a lack of time yielded a short-lived free throw contest pointing in Toronto’s favor. 

“I give them [Toronto] credit. They played a couple zone possession, we didn’t handle great, they also pressured and we didn’t handle that great…These are close games that we are trying to close with guys who are in different roles,” said Daigneault postgame.

Toronto netted six members in double-figures Sunday, but the tandem of Gary Trent Jr. and Chris Boucher — paved the way. Trent Jr. posted a 13-point second half to tally 23 points (9-of-25 FG) on the game while shooting an effective 5-of-10 from distance. Trent Jr. almost single-handedly recorded more steals than Oklahoma City as a collective, reaching 5 to their 6. Chris Boucher empowered the Raptors with strong first-and-fourth quarter performances to build a game-high 31 points (10-of-16 FG) and 12 rebounds. Boucher has shot right around the 40-percent mark from outside this year, but with a 6-of-9 shooting clinic — it’s safe to say this was one of his best games.

In a nothing short of a miracle, Toronto’s leading-scorer in Chris Boucher was put in check by one of his childhood friends — Lu Dort. “We [Boucher and I] are actually from the same neighborhood,” Dort stated, even mentioning that growing up, he’d watch Boucher hoop while being six years younger, he sat on the benches.

Lu Dort served up 29 points (9-of-15 FG) while draining 5-of-8 threes, and digging inside hitting 6-of-8 free throws. Dort’s 21-point first quarter added him to a list of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder as lone members to post a 20-point quarter — Paul George holds the franchise record at 25.

“He [Dort] really had it going in the first. He made jump shots again. He’s diversified his game,” said Mark Daigneault. “When he’s got his floor game going, that’s when he’s at his best.” Daigneault even noted Toronto was trying to deny him the ball , leading to “good experience.”

Aleksej Pokusevski also had a great return game recording 8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 6 blocks in 28 minutes of run. The 19-year-old not only set a career-high in blocks, but he also joined LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, and Kevin Garnett as the only teenagers to register 5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 blocks in a game — that’s good company.

Darius Bazley hit all the high notes Sunday etching 16 points (6-of-15) and 8 rebounds. The sophomore was prominent around the cup while also sinking 3-of-5 threes, for perspective, he went 1-of-10 in Friday’s contest. Kenrich Williams and Isaiah Roby rounded out the double-digit club racking up 12 and 11 points respectively.

Big men Moses Brown and Tony Bradley were essentially locked up for the first time since playing with each other in March. Brown failed to post a single point going a blank 0-of-3 snagging a paltry 4 rebounds in 20 minutes. Tony Bradley recorded a few nifty moves inside the paint (including a transition finish) to harvest 8 points and 3 rebounds.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (20-37) will head off to the nation’s capital to face the Washington Wizards (23-33) in a back-to-back closer.

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