10 things: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander torches tired Raptors in triumphant homecoming

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 things from the Toronto Raptors’ 98-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

One — Letdown: The difference between Saturday night’s win over the Boston Celtics and their effort Sunday against the Thunder was night and day. Perhaps that’s just the inevitable response after such an exhausting game, but consistency is one of the Raptors’ best traits as a franchise. It’s not as if the Raptors didn’t put up a fight, but they never quite got out of first gear, and in the end they succumbed to mental mistakes.

Two — Unfortunate: The Raptors should have still had a chance to extend the game, but Terence Davis suffered his first crucial rookie mistake of the season. With the Raptors down one and the shot clock turned off, Davis hounded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander up the length of the floor without committing the foul. And by the time the Raptors finally realized their mistake, a full 10 seconds had run off leaving just 3.4 seconds on the clock. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said afterwards that Davis likely forgot the score, as the plan in that situation was to foul and extend the game.

Three — Regrets: It was an unfortunate way for Davis to end the game, as it was otherwise a strong performance from the undrafted rookie. Davis hit two 3s in the third quarter to keep the Raptors within striking distance and he was rewarded with a chance to close out the fourth. Nurse was so desperate for shooters to open the floor for Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet to attack that he trotted out four point guards — Lowry, VanVleet, Davis and Pat McCaw — around Serge Ibaka, and it nearly worked. Hopefully, this error doesn’t linger on Davis’ mind, as fearlessness has been his best trait thus far.

Four — Cramped: The Thunder came in with a clear strategy of clogging the paint and it worked against a tired squad on the second night of a back-to-back. The Raptors hit 15 3s, but they also shot 46 percent from within the arc and attempted only 12 free throws. Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel are excellent rim protectors, and they camped out in the lane for the full 48 minutes — which made life extremely difficult for Lowry and VanVleet.

Five — Worn: Lowry has been unbelievable of late, but there’s a question of how long he can sustain this effort. Lowry was noticeably tired down the stretch, as he mostly deferred to VanVleet to generate offence. Lowry leads the league in minutes per game and he’s carrying a heavy workload on both ends. Sometimes he just doesn’t have it for the full four quarters, and tonight was one of those times. VanVleet did his best to keep pace, but it wasn’t enough.

Six — More: This was a game in which Serge Ibaka needed to play a bigger role. Ibaka did his part to keep Steven Adams in check — as Nick Nurse mirrored Ibaka’s minutes with Adams to avoid the mismatch in strength against Chris Boucher — but Ibaka could have played a bigger role on offence. He fumbled several passes in the paint that would have led to layups and his screening was ineffective, particularly when he picked up an offensive foul in crunch time after whiffing on the first attempt. Against a team that drops as much as the Thunder, Ibaka should feast off a buffet of pick-and-pop jumpers, but the aggressiveness wasn’t there.

Seven — Fading: OG Anunoby is officially in a slump. Anunoby was benched tonight after missing all seven of his open 3s. The playmaking isn’t quite there without Pascal Siakam to draw in extra defenders and Marc Gasol to spot Anunoby cutting backdoor for layups, but the bottom line is that he needs to make his shots. Anunoby was the recipient of several gorgeous passing sequences by the Raptors, which made his misses all the more painful. Anunoby is averaging 7.8 points over his last five games and he’s shooting just 10 percent from deep. He’ll snap out of it, but it’s tough to watch at the moment.

Eight — Disaster: Somehow it got even worse for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson after he fouled out against the Celtics. Hollis-Jefferson picked up three fouls and committed two turnovers in just three minutes of play, and was promptly stapled to the bench for the remainder of the night. When he came out of the game, Hollis-Jefferson whipped his headband in disgust.

Nine — Emergence: Oshae Brissett is capitalizing on the opportunity left behind by Hollis-Jefferson’s struggles and is largely replicating the same role. Brissett operates like an intern — he’s the first to dive for a loose ball, he’s the first one down the floor after a miss, he’s the first to jump for the rebound and he’s staying out of the way on everything else. He’s providing a mistake-free version of what the Raptors want from Hollis-Jefferson, and that’s why he’s gotten an extended run over the past two games.

Ten — Brilliant: Canadian point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his excellent play with 32 points and the game-winner in front of friends and family. Nurse was effusive in his praise before tip-off, as he warned fans that Gilgeous-Alexander has the quickest first step in the league. Gilgeous-Alexander torched every defender the Raptors threw at him and was easily the best player on the floor. He has already committed to playing for Team Canada in the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria and if he maintains his current level, he might very well be the best player on the team.

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