Raptors [52-17] vs Thunder [42-29]: Preview and three keys

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - DECEMBER 27: Russell Westbrook
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - DECEMBER 27: Russell Westbrook /

As the Toronto Raptors continue their push for the 1st seed in the East they turn their attention towards the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder are currently a borderline playoff scratching and clawing for their lives. They’re going to leave it all on the line in hopes to make top eight. The playoffs would also be a big step in keeping Paul George on the Thunder as he approaches offseason this year. At the start of the fans were ecstatic at the prospect of having a big three in Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony. But the deeper into the season the less enthused fans got. The big three have drastically underperformed expectations and have left fans wanting more. At the start of the year, it had seemed that their defense had figured itself out but, as the year prolonged they were stuck waiting. But when it seemed like things were finally coming together with their defensive quarterback Andre Roberson had a season-ending injury. The Thunder are currently holding the 4th position in the West with a 42 and 29 record. The difference between 4th and 10th overall in the West is only a four-game spread.

Stopping the Beast.

Westbrook is up to his standard of play getting triple-doubles at a consistent rate. Even though they’ve had a change of team he is still manning the offense. Westbrook is the main focal point of the Thunder offense quarterbacking and leading the offense on his own. No one can really ever shut him down, so limiting his effect on the court will help build towards a victory.

Westbrook has averaged numbers nearly on par with his historic season last year. He’s scoring 25.2 points, snatching a guard high 9.7 rebounds and handing off a league-high 10.2 assists per game. Based on what now seems to be the norm for he’s had another season filled with triple-doubles, in 69 games played he has 22 triple-doubles. As ball dominant as Westbrook is he still moves the ball around well, having seven games of 15 + assists.

Westbrook’s biggest knock is his poor off the ball play. He seems to stall when not controlling the offensive possession. In a podcast, Zach Lowe was discussing with Kevin Arnovitz how up until December he didn’t set one ball screen for Carmelo Anthony. He has the athleticism to be a good screen setter but seems to avoid that responsibility.

Three keys to victory

  1. Slow down Westbrook

As mentioned he loves to control the ball and the pace of the game. He can hit shots from anywhere on the court, he’s also a great shot creator when he puts the effort in. He’s has assisted 49.8-percent of teammates field goals. Preventing him the free rein to control the tempo will go a long way into stopping the Thunders offense.

2. Defensive battle

Both teams have a top 10 defensive rating, Toronto ranked fourth and the Thunder ranked ninth. The loss of Andre Roberson has been a major factor in the Thunders recent performances. That being said they’re still playing at an elite level and should not be taken lightly. The return of OG Anunoby will play a major role in the Toronto defensive scheme. The Thunder win games based on their defensive plays so having all hands on deck should lead to the Raptors 12th straight win.

3. Don’t let the game go the distance.

Westbrook is known for his late-game shot-making ability, completely taking over and hitting game-tying/game-winning 3-pointers. His most recent display was against the Sacramento Kings where he released the shot in under a second to win the game, all the while breaking the hearts of Sacramento. In late game situations he’s one of the last people you want to be facing, don’t allow it to get to a buzzer beater.


The Thunder are going to be giving it their all to get a winversus the East’s best. Westbrook is going to be hunting so preventing him from getting going will be a major factor if Toronto hopes to win. The Raptors will need to bring their A-game in hopes for a win. Come prepared for war.

Toronto 102 – Oklahoma 96