Closing Out Home Stand with Toronto
Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Bally Sports
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After three games inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder will wrap up its home stand with its first tilt of the season against Toronto. The game will be one of the many new experiences this Thunder roster has faced this season. Between the young, developing members of the roster along with other players who haven’t logged many games with the Thunder this season such as Tony Bradley, Svi Mykhailiuk and Josh Hall, the Thunder will continue to utilize these new experiences as opportunities to explore its roster.
The Thunder game on Monday against Dallas served as a prime example of this truth. While the game marked the third meeting between the two teams in the month of March, it was the first time OKC faced Luka Dončić all season – a challenge Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault looked forward to his group competing against. While OKC fell 127-106, it was a lesson in maintaining a high-level of execution and attention to detail for a full 48 minutes.
“The game is a craft that you have to hone and you have to get better at. All these little fundamentals and execution details, they add up for players and for teams,” said Daigneault following the Thunder’s game on Monday night. “We've got some inexperienced guys out there that are getting a taste of it for the first time, and we just need to use the experiences to improve.”
Rookie forward Aleksej Pokuševski led the Thunder in scoring on Monday with 21 points marking his second career 20-point game. As the time on the floor continues to add up for the 19-year-old, the more he continues to cultivate his game as a versatile 7-footer.
“His pace these last 10 games or so has been significantly different and more controlled than early on and that's a good indicator that the game slowing down for him,” said Daigneault.
“This is what you can expect when you get guys game minutes and you allow them to experience things, and then to Poku’s credit, when the player interacts with those experiences in a positive way, that's how improvement happens.”
Toronto hasn’t enjoyed much time at home this year as their ‘home’ court has been in Tampa, Florida through the 2020-21 season. Beyond that, Toronto is tied with Boston and Atlanta for the most road games played so far this season with its game in OKC on Wednesday marking the 27th road game this season.
After its loss to Detroit on Monday, the Raptors have now dropped 12 of their last 13 games and during that timeframe, defense has played a major role. After sitting at eighth in the league in points allowed this season, Toronto has dropped to 28th overall allowing 117.3 points per night on average. However, one area where the Raptors have remained relatively consistent throughout the season has been its ability to force turnovers as they rank fourth in the league in that category with 15.4 forced each night.
Fred VanVleet leads the disruptive defensive effort as he ranks fourth among all players in the league in steals and forced turnovers per night. Offensively, VanVleet is one half of the Raptor’s potent back court with the other half being Kyle Lowry. Both guards average 20 points per night for Toronto and dish out a combined 13.5 assists each contest.
The Raptors also acquired Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood to its roster from the Trail Blazers in exchange for Norman Powell. Against Detroit on Monday, Trent posted 15 points, five assists and two steals while Hood chipped in seven points off the bench.
One interesting aspect of Wednesday’s game to keep an eye on will be the 3-point shooting of the Raptors and the stout 3-point defense of the Thunder. So far this season, Toronto attempts and knocks down the third most 3-pointers each night and shoots at the ninth best clip in the league (37.5).
On the other hand, the Thunder’s 3-point defense has allowed just 35 percent from deep on average this season which is good for the sixth lowest in the league. Keep an eye on the Thunder’s ability to contest and deter Toronto’s looks from deep on Wednesday.
Stat to Watch
Free Throws — One consistent area for the Thunder’s offense over the past three games has been its ability to get to the free throw line at a higher rate that its opponents. It’s a testament to the group’s ability to not only get to the line on the offensive end, but to defend without fouling. Keep an eye on this trend from the Thunder against the Raptors who rank third in the league in free throw attempts as they average 25.8 per night.
“It’s percentage wise, on average, the most efficient thing you can do in an NBA game is go to the free throw line,” said Daigneault. “Generally, it's something that we want to be part of the plans and we're continuing to work with our guys on being physical on their drives, not begging for calls and trying to finish through contact.”
For the fifth consecutive game, every player who logged minutes for the Thunder scored. This included another standout performance from the Thunder’s reliable second unit who sparked a 17-8 run early on in Monday’s game. Ty Jerome and Kenrich Williams posted 11 and 10 points respectively, but the newest addition to the Thunder roster also got in on the action. Newcomer Tony Bradley went a perfect 3-for-3 from the field in his debut game for the Thunder while recording eight points. Similarly, two-way forward Josh Hall recorded a career-high 10 points off the bench in just his ninth game for the Thunder after battling back from injuries and setbacks throughout the season.