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Raptors take down Thunder in OT after blowing big lead

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Raptors were trailing in this one before the ball was even tipped.

A charged-up Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd was still buzzing over the emotional raising of fan-favourite Nick Collison’s No. 4 to the rafters.

It was reminiscent, although in a different way, to the atmosphere in San Antonio when Kawhi Leonard returned for the first time and the emotion of the crowd basically took over the night.

The Raptors succumbed to the overwhelming odds that night in San Antonio. On this one they did not.

Toronto went basket for basket with the Thunder through the first half dozen minutes and then began to pull away.

The lead got as big as 14 in the first half and was up to 19 in the third.

The crowd was never out of the game completely but they never got the chance to capitalize on what was a very moving pre-game ceremony.

The man is MONEY @DGreen_14 | #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/40aygSreSY

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 21, 2019
Feeding Toronto’s momentum from the opening tip was their long-range shooting.

The Raptors made 13 of 24 through three quarters from behind the line in this one led by five from Danny Green. They wound up 14-of 36 but still a respectable 39%.

Even with that they still required an overtime period to finish the job with the Thunder coming all the way back from an 11-point deficit with just 3 1/2 minutes left in the game to provide the crowd with bonus basketball.

In the overtime period, Toronto dominated outscoring OKC 13-4 to win the game 123-114.

More spice for your headtop pic.twitter.com/JjjlYUwAH3

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 21, 2019
“You gotta finish regardless of the circumstances or whatever is going on,” head coach Nick Nurse said afterwards. “You just got to keep playing. A lot of times when you blow a big lead and go to OT that momentum has already gone to the team that got it to OT and you go flat. We didn’t. We came out and really played, especially on the defensive end and that’s a really good sign.”

Without Kyle Lowry in the lineup as he strengthens that injured right ankle, the Raptors turned the ball-handling duties over to Fred VanVleet and did not miss a beat.

VanVleet was as much scorer as distributor on this night finishing with 23 points and six assists.

Pascal Siakam led all Raptors with 33 points, 17 of those coming in the first half.

He was one of five different Raptors in double digits scoring in the game.

Siakam also had 13 rebounds, joining Kawhi Leonard with a double-double on the night.

“I think defensively we picked it up a little more,” centre Marc Gasol said of the overtime frame. “We had that lead late in regulation and then we kind of didn’t make a stand. They made some tough shots at the same time. At the end of (regulation) we made a conscious effort to get more stops and once we got a small lead in OT we just took over.”

Leonard, back in the lineup after a game off against the Knicks, had a solid all-around night on the stat sheet with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but his best work was done early on Paul George, who he hounded into some foul trouble and held to just 10 points until George went off in the final two minutes to bump his total to 19.

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 21, 2019
Overall this may have been one of the better defensive games from the Raptors this year. In addition to having that pre-game ceremony to juice the building, the Thunder had Westbrook back after his one-game suspension for his 16th tech of the year.

They also came in on a three-game losing skid. There were all kinds of reasons to expect a big effort but the Raptors just wouldn’t let them get anything started until the very end.

“Everyone talked, everyone was in the gaps, everyone was unselfish,” Gasol said of the game. “They are going to make shots but we got to finish it off. Like I said, it’s a learning lesson and later on in the playoffs that can cost you a game and you don’t want that happening in the playoffs.”

The Thunder didn’t help themselves in this one, shooting just 52% from the free throw line.

George eventually fouled out with 20 seconds remaining but not before he hit a pair of big three’s to bring his point total for the night to 19 and getting the Thunder to within two.

With about five seconds difference on the shot clock and the game clock, the Raptors failed to score and worse turned the ball over for the 18th time, giving Westbrook a running start on his way to the game-tying basket.

“I’m not going to complain,” Nurse said, summing up the night. “We got out of here with a win, right? I don’t really care what it looks like and if you want to be a real positive person, you could say overtime is good for us. Playing in a tough game on the road. It’s good for us. Can we regroup and fight and focus and it’s a good positive thing to take out of it.”

IBAKA DONE CHUCKING KNUCKLES

Serge Ibaka hasn’t always been a player able to reign in his emotions, but the latest altercation with Marquese Chriss – which earned him a three-game suspension – has resulted in one change to his game that he hopes to make.

Ibaka was asked if he learned anything about his team with the time out, but took the question another way.

“Just don’t fight,” he said. “I lost so much money. I was thinking, man, with my foundation back home, I started thinking how much this type of money could help. I could do this. I could do that. So it’s like, just don’t fight.”

Ibaka has forged a reputation as a guy who enjoys the physical stuff in the paint and his unwillingness to give way to anyone is known around the league. He swears that won’t change.

“I have been so good this year, I don’t know if you guys realize that,” he said to the assembled media at shootaround. “I tried so hard, but like I say again, I want to keep playing with my fire. That’s who I am. I’m not faking it. I’m not going to change or change my personality because this (suspension) happened. This is who I am. I am going to play but in a smart way now.”

Nurse laughed when he heard about Ibaka’s declaration.

“That would be a good lesson for all of us around the world,” he said.

But the head coach, like the player, is not looking for any radical change to his game.

“I think he’s an aggressive-type mentality player and needs to be,” Nurse said. “That is what his game entails and needs to have. He is in some physical battles down there so it is a little bit of a fine line but once the whistle blows everything has to be off. That’s just the way it is. You can be as physical within the rules as you want to be but once the whistle blows it’s time to get to the next play.”

Ibaka has been in the middle of three near-brawls in the past two seasons – one with Robin Lopez, one with James Johnson and the latest with Chriss.

But he says he’s done with the extracurriculars now.

COLLISON GETS HIS DUE

Ibaka was having none of it.

In an attempt to get him talking about the uniqueness of a role player like Nick Collison, his former teammate of seven years, having his number retired, the question was prefaced with the fact that Collison’s bare numbers don’t jump off the page when you look at his stats.

“Don’t say that,” Ibaka demanded. “Don’t say that.”

Only after it was made clear that the intent was not to disrespect Collison would Ibaka continue.

That, in short, sums up the esteem and gratitude Ibaka has for the man.

In a 14-year career, Collison played 910 games, the vast majority of those coming off the bench. In his final nine seasons, for instance, the man they call Mr. Thunder started just 15 games. For his career, he averaged 5.9 points a game and 5.2 rebounds. Again, not stellar numbers, but as Ibaka was quick to point out, numbers weren’t what Collison was about.

“When you talk about team players, true team players, Nick is one of them,” Ibaka said. “A lot of guys say they are team players or you hear they are but Nick is truly a team player. He is one of those guys who when he comes to the arena, everything he does is for the team.”

Ibaka says Collison is one of the nicest players he has ever played with and will never forget how comfortable Collison made him feel as a young 19 year old coming into the league.

“It’s not easy in coming into the NBA and go to a team where you are playing the same position as the guy who is in front of you and he’s still trying to help you,” Ibaka said. “That says a lot.”

Nurse has a different history with Collison: Both are Iowa born and both are Iowa proud. Nurse has spoken with Collison on a number of occasions, but his real tie is with an uncle of Collison, who taught him a morality course in high school.

“He is actually a famous umpire as well,” Nurse said. “He umpired all the state tournament games and was an elite high school umpire in Iowa. And he’s a priest.”

The Collison ceremony which went pre-game was well-attended by former players, including Kevin Durant – who made the trek from Minnesota, where the Warriors played Tuesday night with his team on the way home to Oakland.

Ibaka wasn’t at all surprised Durant would make that effort.

“It does not surprise me because KD and Nick are like brothers since the Thunder were the Supersonics,” he said. “So I think KD is doing the right thing in coming here to support his brother.”

Among the other former players on hand for the ceremony were Steve Novak, Drew Gooden and Anthony Morrow.

ONE MORE ON THE TO-DO LIST

The return of Ibaka after his three game absence provides Nurse the chance to tick off one of those final things on his list he wants to see in regular season action. He was guessing he had only seen the combination of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on the floor for about 38 minutes. It’s actually just less than 10. Either way Nurse wants to see some more of that in advance of the playoffs and if it can be something he would use then.

I want to explore that some more,” Nurse said. “I’m not sure tonight is the night it happens but it’s something that is on our radar.”

News Credit – The Sun

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