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2 key takeaways from Raptors’ stunning loss to Thunder

Raptors, Thunder, Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes

The phrase “That was a tough one” gets tossed around a lot, but it is exactly the descriptor for the Toronto Raptors’ last second, gut-wrenching loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Despite OKC being a 7-16 team destined for the lottery, the Raptors managed to make them appear more than competent, allowing for a massive third quarter run after largely being in control until that point. They responded later on in the fourth quarter, but a potential buzzer beating tip-in by Justin Champagnie was a tad too late and left the Raps walking away from perhaps their worst defeat of the season.

“Just poor effort kinda stuff,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “Not enough.”

Toronto falls to 11-14 overall, 4-9 at home, and has its two-game winning streak reduced to ash. Here are two key takeaways from the night that was.

Toronto Raptors Takeaways vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Almost, Champagnie, almost!

Brutal.

The Raptors’ two-way, energy-inducing wing found himself some floor time with the team struggling to get anything going offensively. He immediately made an impact, attacking the glass and converting some highly difficult shots–including the acrobatic basket that tied the game at 107 to put a capper on a 26-10 run.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now,” Champagnie said. “I always have the most confidence in myself going in there and making an impact on the game and I felt like today I did that at a pretty good level.”

But after a Mike Muscala triple off a defensive breakdown, the Raptors were down one again with 8.9 seconds to go. Fred VanVleet (who scored 14 of his 19 points in the fourth) inbounded the ball, got it back, and tried to make a wild game-winning floater that missed the mark badly. Nonetheless, it allowed for Champagnie to leap into the air for a tip-in that looked almost perfect in real time.

After a review, however, it was clear that the ball was still in his hand when the buzzer went, sinking Toronto and evaporating the elation that had exploded in the building only moments before.

“It really did hurt,” Champagnie said. “I thought I had it, but you know, you live, you learn—on to the next one. Just gotta be better at playing hard from the jump and not having those moments where we just slack off.”

Champagnie finished the night a +10 in his 12 minutes, tied for the game-high (Derrick Favors, Tre Mann), let alone the best mark on the Raptors.

“I didn’t like any of the other guys,” Nurse said of putting the young forward into the game. “I thought the other guys were soft and un-energetic and not playing their roles.”

It was a difficult way to lose a game that should’ve never been that close, but it was a good showing for Champagnie, at least, and that’s something.

1. Third quarter flop

After controlling the majority of the first half, despite a mediocre defensive performance, the Raptors went ice cold in the third and received an uppercut to the jaw in the form of a 25-3 OKC run. All told, Toronto mustered just 12 points in the frame, suddenly looking like a lottery-bound team itself.

Even on their better looks, the Raptors couldn’t seem to find mesh—they went 5-27 from the floor and 1-10 from distance. Their 10-point halftime lead was eviscerated, morphing into an 11-point deficit heading into the fourth.

“It was just indicative of us being in second gear all night,” Nurse added. “We just weren’t ready to move and run, we weren’t pushing the ball hard, everything was short. That first quarter everything was pretty easy, right? Shooting shots wide open and whatever.

“But they don’t start going and we don’t execute very well, for one, and then we go into a streak of missing a bunch of wide-open ones when we do get it into the paint and kick it out and miss a few layups and play really soft at the rim.”

It also didn’t help that Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander found his rhythm at the same time, scoring 16 of his 24 points in the quarter. He consistently shredded whoever was guarding him, which most of the time was, unfortunately, Scottie Barnes. Nearly every single time the two matched up, he blew by Barnes and either got to the rim or kicked the ball out to a corner/wing shooter.

Prior to Wednesday, the Raptors had looked to be turning a corner defensively as well. They corralled their defensive rating to a fantastic 99.6 mark for a three-game stretch (second-best in the league during that time) compared to their 109.2 rating on the season (21st in the league).

“Seems to be our pattern,” VanVleet said. “Play well, play really bad, get yelled at, play hard, and do it all over again. It’s disappointing for sure, but it is what it is.”

Simply put: This is not the type of game the Raptors can afford to lose should the playoffs be a real goal.