TORONTO — Not bad, eh?
The Thunder's emphatic 104-92 victory over Toronto on Sunday was not bad at all.
But if what we saw out of Oklahoma City inside Air Canada Centre is any indication, the Thunder might not find as much difficulty as you'd expect in its most arduous road stretch of the season.
Sunday certainly seemed to reveal the recipe for success as the Thunder set out to play 11 of 13 games away from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Though it showed up against an injury-plagued Raptors squad, the Thunder exhibited some of its best defense of the year. For three quarters, all five Thunder players were locked in, swarming to the ball, crowding the paint and contesting shots.
The defense was so suffocating a brunette fan sitting on the baseline in front of the Thunder's bench was forced to spend much of the night bellowing a countdown to her beloved Raptors.
It was the fiancé of DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors leading scorer.
She was screaming out the time remaining on the shot clock as it steadily trickled below five.
“The only time they could score was in transition,” said Nick Collison. “They had a tough time scoring when we got back and played half-court defense.”
The Thunder held the Raptors to a combined 35 points on 37.8 percent shooting in the first and third quarters. That effort helped OKC start the final period with an 11-point cushion, one that eventually grew as large as 21 in the final three minutes.
In the first, third and fourth quarters, the Thunder limited the Raptors 38.8 percent shooting and forced Toronto into 13 of its 17 turnovers.
“We were active,” said Collison, who scored 10 points with eight rebounds. “We're trying to always fight over screens and make them shoot over a hand or make them do something else. In the pick-and-roll, we're trying to cover it so they have to pass and do something else; then guard that action and make them do something else and make them play deep into the shot clock.
“It was another good defensive game. That's two in a row for us where we've been locked in for the majority of the game.”
Toronto entered the game fourth-to-last in rebounding differential with a minus-3.5 average. Sure enough, the Thunder out-rebounded the Raptors 41-31, bumping its record to 5-0 when out-rebounding opponents by at least 10.
The Raptors have been without injured leading big man Andrea Bargnani, though he's not a strong rebounder, and also came in missing centers Aaron Gray (flu) and Jonas Valanciunas (fractured hand), as well as forward Linas Kleiza (knee). Terrence Ross, the promising eighth overall pick in this year's draft, also left the game with a sprained left ankle.
As a result, four Thunder players — Collison, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins — all finished with at least seven rebounds.
“We knew that because of some of their injuries they've been playing small,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “So we had to attack the offensive glass.”
Equally impressive was how the Thunder shut down DeRozan, who entered the game averaging 18.3 points. DeRozan scored just 11 on 4-for-16 shooting.
There was nothing his fiancé could do to help him there.
“We wanted to make sure we didn't give him any easy shots,” Brooks said.
Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, led yet another balanced offensive attack by scoring 12 of his team-high 23 points in the third quarter. Durant scored 22 points on only 11 shots, Ibaka had 19 points and Kevin Martin added 16.
The Thunder improved to 14-0 when five players score in double digits.
Durant and Westbrook each had seven assists.
“Everybody chipped in, and that's what we need. It was a good balance,” Durant said. “The defense doesn't know who's going to score.”
A 32-point Raptors second quarter was the lone cause for concern Sunday. It kept the Raptors within 52-50 at the half. The Thunder allowed Toronto reserve Alan Anderson to score 19 of his game- and career-high 27 points in that second period, and the Raptors shot 59.1 percent in the quarter.
“I thought that was our lack of focus in that second quarter defensively,” Brooks said. “That second quarter, we were just exchanging baskets. And when you do that teams can get comfortable and teams can get hot … But I thought it was a good win.”