Thunder Lights it Up in the Second Half – OKC 124, TOR 107

In a matchup between two NBA heavyweights, the Thunder and Toronto Raptors each threw a haymaker in the first half. In the second set of 24 minutes, it was only the Thunder that landed the knockout punches.

After giving up 63 first half points, the Thunder held Toronto to just 44 combined in the third and fourth quarters, and racked up its sixth-straight win, 124-107. The momentum is clearly on the Thunder’s side, and tonight the confidence and swagger felt like a boulder rolling downhill, even against a Raptors team that came into the night vying for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

“(It’s) a lot of fun. The biggest thing is on the court, we’re expecting to win and that just changes everything: the whole outlook, stepping into a game to preparation to getting each other ready,” forward Paul George said. “We’re just stepping on that floor and we’re expecting to win right now.

Oklahoma City jumped out to a great start, as it has nearly all season long, with a 10-2 burst to start the game, eventually building a 12-point lead. The Raptors scratched right back with a 15-0 run to end the first quarter, and eventually built a 12-point edge of their own before the Thunder’s starters checked back into the game and settled the team back down.

Although Russell Westbrook and company played steady enough to rebuild a lead before halftime, and then ran off another 13-2 burst to begin the third quarter, it wasn’t without some fireworks. A second quarter double-technical dust up between Westbrook and Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, then a controversial double-foul call on Valanciunas and Steven Adams helped ratchet up the intensity inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Later a brief fire from a lighting malfunction in the rafters stopped play in the third quarter. Through it all, the Thunder stayed focused on the task at hand.

“We played defense. We got stops. We were able to get out in transition and get easy buckets,” guard Raymond Felton noted. “Once our defense is set where we need it to be, it makes it easier for us on offense.”

The defense over the final two frames was the key in this one after the shootout in the first half. Much can be attributed to the way that Westbrook and Andre Roberson, who held Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to just 3-of-16 shooting in the second half, and with that went the Raptors offense, which shot just 31.8 percent after halftime.

“You cut the head of the snake off and a lot of times teams go the other way,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “We did a great job of keeping Kyle under control, keeping DeMar under control. Those two guys when they get it going, they’re tough to stop.”

George also chipped in big time by helping to cool off CJ Miles, who started the game 6-for-9 shooting from behind the arc and kept Toronto in the game, but went 0-for-3 down the stretch because of Paul’s length and ability to close out into the corner.

On the offensive end of the floor, the Thunder got contributions from a variety of sources, but particularly its starting group, which scored 105 points on its own. Westbrook was aggressive, yet patient. George swerved around screens, Adams went 8-for-9 for 18 points on dunks and floaters in the lane, and Anthony added a little bully ball, posting up defenders of all sizes on his way to 18 points, knocking down 8-of-11 shots from two-point range.

“Just taking advantage of the mismatches, of the switches, taking my time and not trying to settle for just a regular jump shot,” Anthony explained. “Trying to get to my spots and take advantage of that."

“We did a good job of finding guys in their spots and playing fast,” Westbrook added. “When we do that, it’s hard to guard us.”

The catalyst was Westbrook, who was in control all night. That’s been a clear trend during the Thunder’s six-game win streak, and this month of December as the team has gone 12-3 so far. Westbrook has now shot 50 percent or better in 6 of the last 7 games, and in the 7th he went 11-for-24, one shot shy of 50 percent. He is hitting midrange jumpers, taking only catch and shoot threes and attacking the paint to find layups or open teammates. Tonight he racked up 30 points and 13 assists, to go with 8 boards.

“Russ is just playing, not trying to defer to anybody, to any one of us. He’s just playing his game and letting us play off him,” Anthony explained. “He’s much more effective by doing that rather than deferring to myself or Paul. We know what he brings to the game. We understand it. We accept it and by that, he’s just able to play his game and relax and do what he do best. We need that Russ out there.”

The way Westbrook put this one to bed was by dropping off a pass in the lane to Adams, who threw down a devastating one-handed dunk right over the top of Valanciunas with 5:44. Given crowd-generated buzz from the earlier skirmishes and the clear indication that the Thunder could put this one to bed, it was an exclamation point for this win.

“Perfect. Good closure,” Westbrook grinned.

Highlights: Thunder vs. Raptors

By the Numbers

13 – Assists for Russell Westbrook to go with 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting

24-7 – The Thunder’s advantage in second chance points in the game, thanks to 15 offensive rebounds

124 – Points for the Thunder on the night on 52.9 percent shooting, including a 40-for-66 (60.1 percent) night for the starters

The Last Word

“It felt really good, especially in that second half. We got really, really energized and energetic just off stops, off big plays, off clutch shots. The energy was amazing, from the energy we generated on the floor, to the fans giving us energy to keep going. It was too much energy. The lights went out…There are spurts where it’s louder than usual. Here, it’s as loud as it gets.” – forward Paul George