Westbrook triple trouble for Raptors


The Raptors appeared to have Russell Westbrook right where they wanted him.

The Thunder’s star point guard was spending as much time on the deck — and as much time complaining to the officials — as he was scoring or assisting or rebounding.

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Credit Westbrook, though, for keeping his cool in a game his Thunder would go on to win 108-104. It was not a particularly good shooting night for the hottest thing in the NBA these days, but his overall game remained on target and, by night’s end, his fifth triple double in the past six games was enough to get Oklahoma City over the hump and prevent a second consecutive fourth-quarter comeback by the Raptors here.

It was here a year ago that the Raptors scored one of their biggest wins of the year, coming back from nine down after three quarters for the upset.

This time around, the deficit after three quarters was seven and, while the Thunder didn’t have Kevin Durant in uniform — he played in last year’s game — Westbrook circa 2015 proved to infinitely better than the Westbrook of a year ago. He finished with 30 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds despite some early struggles.

“He stuck with it,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They got the transition game going. Make or miss, they had us on our heels. Speed and quickness and power going into the paint hurt us in the second half. I thought we did a good job of walling and showing bodies in the first half and that’s the way we have to play.”

Unfortunately, sustaining that approach in the second half wasn’t as easy as in that first half, which Casey called the “best defence we have played in a while.”

As good as Westbrook was — and he came exactly as advertised — the shift in the second half came primarily because the Oklahoma City front court of Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter started to dominate.

The two OKC bigs took over the paint at both ends of the court and were a big reason the rebounding battle — a clear-cut 49-33 win for the Thunder — was one-sided.

“I thought they came out and they attacked us,” Casey said. “It’s not like we didn’t play hard, but they took it to another level and we didn’t meet it, especially in the paint, in the rebounding. Kanter and Ibaka came in and just hurt us in the paint, moving us out of the way, hitting us, and we didn’t respond and come up with those rebounds. Those were big possessions in that stretch and kind of set the tone the way they played.”

With Durant out, Westbrook has to be almost superhuman and he’s not disappointing.

On this night, he got plenty of help from his front court.

Ibaka and Kanter both wound up with 21 points while the Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson combined for just 12.

The Raps did get the deficit that had grown to 12 early in the fourth down to two, but while Westbrook was picking up his game in the second half, the Raptors’ go-to scorers were in full struggle mode.

Between them Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan came into the second half with 26 points.

They would add just 12 more the entire second half — eight from DeRozan, all coming in the final 90 seconds.

Westbrook would double his first-half output of 14 points as the Raptors dropped their eighth game in the past nine and eight of 10 since the all-star break.

“We’ve got to understand that when we’re playing well like we were in the first half, teams are going to make adjustments,” DeRozan said. “Sometimes the same things that were working in the first half may not work in the second half. We should have been more aggressive getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line, trying to slow down the game that way. But we’ve just got to be more conscious of that. Give them credit, they came out swinging and we missed a lot of shots.”

The Raptors began the game determined to make everything hard for Westbrook and they did, at least initially.

By the end of the first quarter, he was already in full whine with the officials. By halftime, he looked ready to snap.

Westbrook was still getting his, however, and his five attempts from the free throw line equalled what the Raps got as a team in the first half, but he clearly wanted more.

Greivis Vasquez, in particular, seemed to get under his skin, or maybe it was the fact that he didn’t get the flagrant he wanted after the review. Westbrook could clearly be heard telling one of the officials that being grabbed around the neck was not a common foul in his opinion, followed by a few unprintable words after that.

Westbrook still finished the half with 14 points and nine assists, but when you’re used to 40-point nights the way he is these days, not to mention triple-doubles, 14 in a half barely registers.

Offensively, the Raptors spent the bulk of the first half relying on the three-point shot and they found a hot hand in Terrence Ross who hit on four of his six attempts from distance in the first half.


It has become must-watch TV, or for those fortunate enough to reside in this fair city, must-see entertainment.

Russell Westbrook is in the midst of a stretch of basketball that has even his opponents shaking their heads in disbelief.

Westbrook had his fifth triple-double in his past six games in Sunday’s 108-104 win over Toronto. It could easily be eight in a row, he’s been that good.

DeMar DeRozan can appreciate what he is doing but putting it into words isn’t quite as easy. He knows he hasn’t seen a stretch like this from an NBAer in quite some time.

“No, not in a long while,” DeRozan said. “Lately, but not tonight, I have been looking forward to watching him play. It’s real entertaining. For me as a basketball fan, it’s fun to watch. It’s amazing. Every time he steps out there, he’s doing something amazing and I don’t think people understand how tough it is, night in and night out, to do what he is doing. I mean he’s banged-up, he’s knicked-up. It’s tough.”

Westbrook’s 30-point night with 17 assists and 11 rebounds is not even close to the best he has played. Credit the Raptors early on for getting him slightly off his game, but he maintained his composure even as he was calling out officials.

“Russ has come a long way,” DeRozan said. “I remember when people used to complain that he was shooting too much and he should pass (Kevin Durant) the ball. He always had that relentlessness in him.”


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