The Toronto Raptors fall to 22-11 on the season after suffering a tough one-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on the second end of a back-to-back.
It came down to the wire, but ultimately, clutch play from OKC's backcourt of Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the difference down the stretch, with the latter of the two hitting the floater to put the Thunder up for good… more on him later.
The Raptors fought hard in what was largely an ugly game, but continue to feel the absence of key contributors in Marc Gasol, Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts from this one…
1. "Welcome home, boy"
Judging by this quote, Chris Paul was ecstatic for his backcourt mate, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Hamilton, ON), who put forth a career performance in his second professional game in Toronto.
How good was Shai? He tied his career-high with 32 points (on 12-for-21 shooting), with none bigger than this floater that put the Thunder up for good.
🥶 S- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 30, 2019
🥶 A@shaiglalex | #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/hDbEWV9Osz
Gilgeous-Alexander is proving to be not only one of the brightest young Canadian talents but one of the league's next stars.
2. The ending was a headscratcher
After Gilgeous-Alexander's floater gave OKC a one-point lead with 36.0 seconds remaining, things got a little confusing.
On the ensuing possession, the shot clock wound down, causing Fred VanVleet to take a deep triple that caromed into the hands of OKC with 13.4 seconds on the clock. From then, it took Toronto over 10 seconds to intentionally foul.
To make matters worse, the Raptors had a foul to give.
After a timeout, OKC inbounded the ball to Gilgeous-Alexander, who avoided an intentional foul to dribble the clock out, meaning Toronto had no chance to extend the game by forcing OKC to earn it at the line.
3. Limited transition spells doom for the Raptors
Per NBA.com stats, the Toronto Raptors lead the league in transition scoring with 26.2 points per game.
In this one, it just wasn't there.
Considering Toronto played yesterday, fatigue and a limited rotation likely had a hand in it finishing the game with just eight fast break points, a figure that proved to be detrimental to the team's offensive output as a whole.
The Raptors will look to get back out in the open floor moving forward, especially when they get more bodies back.
4. It was an intriguing backcourt battle
Entering this one, I had my eyes on the respective backcourts of each team.
With Danilo Gallinari out, Oklahoma City only goes as far as Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander take it, just as Toronto goes as far as Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet take it with Pascal Siakam sidelined.
The Thunder's backcourt got the best of the Raptors duo in a matchup that didn't disappoint.
⛈️ @shaiglalex and @CP3 lead the @okcthunder to victory in Toronto!- NBA (@NBA) December 30, 2019
SGA: 32 PTS (ties career high), 7 REB, 3 STL
CP3: 25 PTS, 11 REB, 8 AST pic.twitter.com/1YcHvDitd5
Gilgeous-Alexander (32) and Paul (25) combined to score 57 points on 21-for-39 (53.8%) shooting while Lowry (20) and VanVleet (20) shot a combined 13-for-31 (41.9%) from the field to combine for 40 points.
Which leads me to say…
5. Chris Paul has still got it
34-years-old. 15th season. No problem.
Despite being written off by many, CP3 continues to provide reminders of why he will go down as one of the best point guards to ever lace them up. Of his 25 points, 20 came in the second half, including some big buckets down the stretch.
He also added a season-high 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Paul entered the game leading the league in total clutch-time points scored. He surely added to that total in this one.
6. Chris Boucher has an early candidate for Raptors dunk of the year
The highlight speaks for itself:
ON HIS HEADTOP pic.twitter.com/uG4em8ZaMg- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 30, 2019
As does the alternate angle:
BONJOURRRRRR pic.twitter.com/jVStx5IeGe- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 30, 2019
7. The future of basketball in Canada is very, very bright
As if this wasn't obvious already, this game was just another reminder.
It wasn't just Gilgeous-Alexander tying his career-high and Boucher making big highlights, either.
Mississauga's Oshae Brissett was on the floor for over 17 minutes and made his presence felt in a number of ways.
Quality Canadian content @Obrissy | #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/7J5Wbwcqhr- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 29, 2019
Montreal's Luguentz Dort saw nearly 17 minutes of action as well and showed confidence and poise as he saw an increased role with Dennis Schröder sidelined. Dort recently talked with NBA.com about his growing confidence in an increased role.
8. What's next?
The Raptors have a day off before they're back in action when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time in as many weeks.
It's a big opportunity for Toronto to close out the calendar year - and the decade - with a win over a Cleveland team that is 10-22. The Raptors are one of just three teams (Bucks, Lakers) with a perfect record against teams below .500 this season as they've won their first 17 up to this point.
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