Fred VanVleet feels like his Toronto Raptors are finding their rhythm with the NBA post-season right around the corner.
Pascal Siakam earned a double-double with 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists to lead the Raptors past the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-111 on Thursday as Toronto had back-to-back wins. VanVleet scored 19 and dished out five assists as six Raptors players hit double digits in points.
“Well it helps when our two best players play good,” VanVleet said before adding “at the same time” with a smile.
“Just finding our groove. You can’t really do nothing about games that are behind us. You’ve got to focus on going forward and we’ve been playing pretty good basketball.
Jakob Poeltl also had a double-double with 16 points and 12 boards to help the Raptors (34-36) out-rebound the Thunder 58-39. Gary Trent Jr., had 23 points, Scottie Barnes had 19, and O.G. Anunoby had 17.
“I know we can do it and we have the personnel to do it,” said Siakam on Toronto’s balanced attack. “I think we’re just continuing to get better at understanding each other’s spots and making sure that we play together, communicate.
“We’re going to need every single person on this team for us to be able to make a run.”
Hamilton’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points as Oklahoma City (34-36) had its three-game win streak snapped. Guard Jalen Williams added 15 points while Montreal’s Luguentz Dort scored 10 points with eight rebounds.
“They were the aggressors all night on both ends of the floor,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Defensively they brought pressure all night. Played in their comfort zone.
“Then offensively they were attacking, had us on our heels and then they were on the glass.”
It was the second consecutive game a Canadian star visited Toronto after Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., and his Denver Nuggets lost to the Raptors 125-110 on Tuesday.
Toronto head coach Nick Nurse, who also coaches Canada’s men’s senior team, said it’s good for the growth of basketball in this country to have so many homegrown players coming through the city to play the Raptors.
“I just really think it has to motivate the younger kids a lot,” said Nurse before the game. “Gives them somebody to look up to. Those kids are out there wearing those guys’ jerseys.”
Poeltl brought the crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena to their feet with a one-handed jam with 3:19 left in the half. Anunoby followed that up with a steal on the next Thunder possession, passing to Poeltl for a layup as Toronto built a 64-59 lead by the intermission
“That’s just good momentum,” said VanVleet of the sequence. “At home, get the crowd going with those guys playing above the rim.
“Being able to finish plays off like that through contact and being able to finish and just get the energy and the momentum going – it gives your team a big boost.”
Back-to-back three-pointers by Tre Mann and Isaiah Joe brought the Thunder to within four in the third quarter, but the Raptors answered back with a 13-foot jump shot from Trent and a Chris Boucher dunk to maintain their lead. Heading into the fourth Toronto led 93-87.
Oklahoma City couldn’t muster much of a comeback in the final quarter, with Siakam continuing to dominate. He had five of his points in the quarter and Poeltl added eight.
Toronto rookie centre Christian Koloko was hit in the nose in the fourth quarter and left the game. He was listed as questionable by the Raptors following the injury.
Nurse said before the game that because the Raptors bench has been struggling he would ideally like to pair them with two or three starters at all times, to keep opponents within range when resting Toronto’s better players.
“There are always things that change your ideal thoughts, I think,” said Nurse. “We’ve just got to keep coming up with solutions for them.”
Toronto hosts the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
Oklahoma City returns home on Sunday to host the Phoenix Suns.