Thunder down Raptors with second half defense

The Oklahoma City Thunder took on the Toronto Raptors at Chesapeake Energy Arena early Wednesday evening. The Raptors, just two years removed from an NBA Championship, brought a record of 18-29 into the contest. This season has been a disappointing one for a team that has players the caliber of Paskal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet on the roster. The Thunder were once again without blossoming superstar Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, defensive stalwart Lugentz Dort, former all-star center Al Horford, Forwards Darius Bazley, and Aleksej Pokusevski, and backup point guard Ty Jerome.

The first quarter was full of offensive fireworks by both teams. Both teams combined for 11 made threes in the quarter. Newly acquired Raptor guard Gary Trent Jr was a force offensively routinely getting to the rim and hitting lightly contested perimeter shots to give the Raptors a 32-30 lead after one period of play. The second quarter followed the same script as the first. Oklahoma City put up 29 points but the defense was a liability allowing the Raptors to score 35. The scoreboard at the half read Raptors 65 Thunder 59.

During halftime OKC triggerman Mark Daignault must have made some adjustments defensively. The Thunder came out in the third quarter and absolutely suffocated the up until then high-powered Raptor offense holding them to just 22 points in the quarter. The Thunder’s defensive effort and execution in the third quarter was great, the fourth quarter however was a masterclass. The frontline of Isiah Roby, Moses Brown, and Tony Bradley dominated Paskal Siakam and Aaron Baynes during the quarter. Theo Maledon, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Kenrich Williams locked up the Raptors backcourt holding the team from up north to just 14 points during the entire quarter. This second-half defensive effort led to a final score of 113-103 in favor of the Thunder.

The Thunder’s starting lineup this game looked a lot different from the lineup used just a month ago. OKC started three second-round picks and two undrafted free agents and still was able to beat a team just two years removed from an NBA championship. The shorthanded Thunder’s success can be attributed to the organizations’ culture, the player’s relentless effort, and the leadership of Mark Daignault. Rookie guard Theo Maledon played extremely well in the contest stuffing the stat sheet with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. The young guard’s continued development is a welcome sight to Thunder fans everywhere. Svi Mykhauliuk also showed flashes of what type of player he can become in the future. The young sharpshooter dazzled early in the fourth quarter with his long-range shooting and playmaking.

The Thunder will travel to Phoenix on Friday to take on Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the Suns on Friday.

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