Well, that happened. What a memorable night at the ACC. One of the most improbable, entertaining and potentially season-defining game for two franchises you’ll ever see.
Watching Kevin Durant at Texas, I knew he’d be good. Seeing him in the NBA it was obvious he was special. Seeing him live five games in a row two years ago at the Finals it was clear he’d be an all-time great. The scary thing? He’s clearly hit another level compared to where he was when the Thunder lost to the Heat. The man is flat out ridiculous. Near seven-footers shouldn’t be able to shoot the ball like Kyle Korver, handle it like teammate Reggie Jackson, all the while, being as cool as a cucumber. It’s not really fair.
- Questions: Why don’t you foul Durant before he can even attempt his game-winning three from the parking lot? “We tried,” said Dwane Casey. If a player is going to raise up and shoot from that far back, it’s nearly impossible to get the ball out of his hands. The double team was coming, it just couldn’t get there quickly enough. That said, Toronto’s defending of three-point attempts hasn’t just slipped recently, it’s vanished. A strength has become a weakness. Come back soon Patrick Patterson.
Why was John Salmons playing instead of Terrence Ross? Ross suffered a minor injury and was unavailable.
- It’s a shame the referees were so awful. They hurt the Raptors more than the Thunder, but also made some truly horrific calls in Toronto’s favour, particularly that clear foul on Durant after Salmons bungled the inbounds.
- You have to feel for Salmons. He was crushed afterward after missing two free throws and failing to execute the inbounds. He was so good for the Raptors early on, that steadying veteran influence who took care of the ball, never panicked and hit some clutch shots. For five weeks, Salmons was great. Then, it all started going awry. There’s no sugar-coating it, while his defence has only slipped a bit, Salmons has cratered offensively. He’s shooting 28.6% in March (20% from three), even worse than how he was performing to end February. It’s time for Casey to see if rest will get Salmons back on track. It will be humbling, but Salmons needs to sit out a few games. Then see if rest was the cure for what ailed him. Because, he’s not getting out of this by playing through it. If he’s not hitting shots and not calmly handling the ball late in games, there has to be another option. Landry Fields perhaps? Salmons was huge for the Raptors early in his Toronto tenure, but, sadly, he needs some rest.
“He’s a veteran,” Casey said of Salmons. “In those situations, you’ve got to believe in him, that he’s going to make those free throws in that situation. Terrence goes down. He hurts his hip. We had to go with John in that situation. He’s been one of our best defenders in that situation. But it’s not just one guy. We’ve got to get one more guy to step in and step up in that situation to give us a boost. Kyle and DeMar and Amir are laying it on the line, and JV did a good job down the stretch, too.”
- Classy move by DeMar DeRozan to check on Russell Westbrook after the game. DeRozan went into the Thunder room with his daughter. Hopefully the MRI checks out. Westbrook looked fine and said he felt good. The game was huge for OKC, since it came in double overtime at the end of a back-to-back and because it showed that Durant is capable of carrying the team through whatever needs to be done, even if Westbrook is out.
- It’s too early for all of this Durant to Toronto chatter. Sure, he grew up with Toronto being his favourite team and Greivis Vasquez and Landry Fields are two of his best friends in the league, but 29 other teams will be trying to sign him and who knows if Vasquez and Fields are even Raptors by the time Durant is a free agent. Vasquez will be a restricted free agent this summer and Fields will be on the final year of his ill-fated deal next season.
- Unfortunately, Durant’s brilliance will completely overshadow one of the best games of Amir Johnson’s career. In his 500th NBA contest, Johnson was quietly spectacular himself. He had 25 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and four assists. He was everywhere defensively, serving as both Toronto’s lone rim protector (Jonas Valanciunas needs to get better at this) and best help defender. Offensively, he was a machine. Johnson’s now scored 10+ in eight straight games, averaging about 17 points per game on shooting north of 65% in those contests. He’s no longer criminally underrated, but remains one of the NBA’s best-kept secrets.
- Toronto was oh so close to sweeping one of the league’s true title contenders. This one will hurt.
“We’ve got a lot of basketball left. We’ve got 14 more games to go down the stretch,” Casey said. “We can’t let it be a hangover. We can’t let this game be a hangover in that situation. A big learning experience for our guys. You’re playing with one of the teams in the league, one of the top players, scorers — he’ll probably go down all time as a scorer in the league. And you give yourself a chance to win in [double] overtime.”
- The offensive foul call on Vasquez that fouled him out was brutal, and, in the end, a game-changer. That’s either a no-call (the right call) or a foul on Durant. Durant got him early, then the refs called Vasquez for jumping into Durant. But Durant got him before Vasquez exaggerated it. Without Vasquez, who was playing what might have been his best game as a Raptor (continuing a strong run), Salmons had to come in and that was a massive drop-off.