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Toronto Raptors

Four takeaways from the Toronto Raptors overtime thriller against the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Toronto Raptors held an eight-point lead with two minutes remaining.

The Oklahoma City Thunder made a late push, and the Raptors nearly coughed up the game. Without Paul George in the overtime period, the Thunder struggled to score as the Raptors prevailed to win 123-114.

Toronto advances to 51-21 on the season while OKC, who are on a four-game losing skid, fall to 42-30.

This is the first of two matchups between these teams this week with the second contest set for Friday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Here are your takeaways from tonight's contest...

Starting Steady Freddy

Fred VanVleet is usually Kyle Lowry's supersub but with the number of injuries the Raptors have dealt with this season, they've needed to insert him into the starting lineup a handful of times.

After tonight, it's been 24 times to be exact - and the Raptors are 20-4 in those games.

Head coach Nick Nurse elected not to use VanVleet in the starting lineup in his first game back against the Pistons, in which Toronto lost. Since then, he started against the New York Knicks in a win and started tonight in a win.

VanVleet made an impact from the get-go in this one and he kept it going all night long. The Wichita State-product finished with 23 points, six assists and two steals on 50.0 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from deep.

While he's valuable as a microwave-scorer off the bench, his numbers show he's better as a starter.

He averages 13.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three as a starter.

He posts 8.7 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 rebounds shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 37.0 percent from three as a reserve.

This is by no means to suggest that VanVleet should be used to start over Lowry, or any crazy assumption like that. It's merely to say that when the Raptors are in need of a plug-in to the starting lineup when someone's out with an injury or resting, VanVleet should get strong consideration from the coaching staff should he make sense to fill in for the absent player.

Stopping Paul George... for 46 minutes

Kawhi Leonard had absolutely locked up Paul George for the majority of this game.

Through the first 46 minutes of the game, George had 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting from the field and 1-for-7 shooting from 3-point land. Leonard had him flustered and it seemed like PG just did not have it tonight.

With 2:04 on the clock, George drew a foul on a 3-point attempt. He went to the free throw line and sank all three attempts, breathing life into the MVP candidate's night.

With 1:05 on the clock down by eight he put up a heat check and made it. Now trailing by five with 45 seconds on the clock, George threw up another heat check - and made it.

Scoring nine straight points to bring his team back into the game in under two minutes, George made up for his early struggles. Unfortunately, his foul trouble came back to haunt him - on the very next possession a loose ball foul was called on PG, his sixth of the night.

The Thunder sent the game into overtime without their star forward but ultimately fell short in the extra period.

George finished with 19 points shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from three.

Siakam's Most Improved Player case

As the season winds down, the Most Improved Player of the Year seems to be a two man race between Pascal Siakam and D'Angelo Russell.

On the night after Russell scored a career-high 44 points - including 27 in the fourth quarter - in a comeback win for the Brooklyn Nets, Siakam answered promptly for his own squad.

Spicy P was the difference maker for the Raptors tonight. He scored a team-high 33 points on an efficient 14-for-21 shooting from the field (66.7 percent).

He grabbed 13 rebounds, notching a double-double, to go with two steals and a block.

But most impressively, with Lowry out of the lineup he was asked to handle the ball and push the pace a little more than usual. Siakam turned that into a solid six assists which converted to 15 points for the Raptors. Four of his six assists resulted in made 3-pointers.

That, and being asked to defend the explosive and ferocious Russell Westbrook for the majority of the game shows just how much Siakam has improved this season.

He's been one of the Raptors best and most consistent players all year long and should be given serious consideration for this years' MIP.

Westbrook's big night

Russell Westbrook was the heartbeat that kept the Thunder in this contest the entire night.

With George struggling to score, Westbrook took over the lead role with no issue.

He finished with 42 points and he was efficient, too - he shot 16-for-29 from the field (55.2 percent) and 5-for-10 from long range - arguably his most efficient shooting game of the season.

He filled up the rest of the box score as usual with 11 rebounds and six assists but was the offensive catalyst OKC needed to have a chance in this one. Aside from George's late outburst and Dennis Schroder's 12 points, Westbrook did nearly all the scoring.

His coast-to-coast layup sent the game into overtime and the Thunder went back to him on a game-winning shot attempt but good defence by the Raptors refused to give the All-Star guard a good look.

He scored all four of the Thunder's points in the overtime period but seemingly ran out of gas from carrying his squad all game.

If Westbrook could shoot close to this efficiency on any given night where his wingman PG also steps up, this team would be near-impossible to stop.

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