The game that took place on Friday between The Toronto Raptors and the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder can safely be filed in the category of instant classic.
For the bulk of the 48 minutes and two overtime periods, the Raptors went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant and Co. in a game that featured 12 ties and 23 lead changes.
With less than one minute remaining in the second extra frame and leading by eight, it appeared as though the Raptors had the victory in hand, until Durant rose to the occasion like he has done so many times in his MVP-caliber season. Also known as the Slim Reaper, Durant calmly knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1.7 seconds remaining on the clock to lift the Thunder to a 119-118 triumph as a heartbroken crowd looked on.
The shot by Durant, over the outstretched arms of Amir Johnson, was the exclamation mark on a 51-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist performance by the league’s leading scorer.
Durant went 15-for-32 from the field, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range, and sank 14 of his 19 free throw attempts. He was also forced into carrying more of the workload than was perhaps expected after Russell Westbrook left the game in the third quarter following a collision with Kyle Lowry.
The Raptors put up a good fight with energy, hustle, and solid execution at both ends of the court, knowing full well that not much could be done to stop someone that seemingly scores at will from anywhere inside halfcourt.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, they also didn’t have any answers for Reggie Jackson, who broke free for 25 points and 12 rebounds in 42 minutes of action off the bench. Furthermore, the veteran savvy of Derek Fisher kicked in at exactly the wrong time for the Raptors. Although Fisher was barely able to find rim on many of his field goal attempts throughout the night, it was a 3-pointer of his own that paved the way for Durant’s heroics.
DeMar DeRozan (33 points, eight rebounds, three assists), Lowry (25 points, six rebounds, four assists), and Johnson (25 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks) led a Raptors attack that nearly came away with a sweep of the season series with the Thunder.
Trailing by three points in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, the Raptors emerged from a timeout and were able to find Lowry for a game-tying bucket. As exciting as that was, it also meant that the Raptors were heading to overtime territory, where they are now 1-6.
Aside from missing out on the chance to beat one of the best teams in NBA, this outcome had more immediate and important consequences. The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Boston Celtics 114-98 on Friday and now trail the Raptors by just 1.5 games in the race for the Atlantic Division crown.
Down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs, the Raptors will have to figure out a way to win games that go down to the wire.
Of course after a loss like this, the conversation often centers on moral victories and lessons learned, but what I took away from this game more than anything else was entertainment value.
Letting that eight point lead slip away could have serious implications in the Raptors quest for homecourt advantage, but that is a story for another day.
For now, I tip my hat to Durant for stealing the show.