Facing the prospect of a 3-game losing streak, the Oklahoma City Thunder started the game like they were definitely pressing. The defense, which was their crowning achievement for much of the first 9 games of the season, was just not there for much of the first half. At the end of the first quarter, the Magic had 20 points in the paint and a 14 point lead.
It was much of the same for the first 7 minutes of the 2nd quarter. The Magic lead ballooned up to 21 points, and the Thunder had no answers for Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier. Then Thunder head coach Billy Donovan put Andre Roberson on Payton, and the Magic offense sputtered. Roberson’s length disrupted Payton’s ability to drive to the basket, and the Magic’s momentum grinded to a halt. At the same time, the Thunder’s transition game kicked into gear, and the Thunder fought their way back to head into halftime only down by 10.
In the third, the Thunder started with Roberson on Payton, but the Magic quickly reacted by posting Jeff Green up on Westbrook. After a couple baskets by Green, Donovan switched everyone back to their normal assignments. Fortunately for the Thunder, the Westbrook of the 2nd half was up to guarding Payton.
It wasn’t so much the sputtering of the Magic’s offense, but more the uptick of the Thunder’s transition game that brought them back in the 3rd quarter. The Thunder only had 7 fast break points in the 3rd quarter, but had 20 points in the paint. The Thunder’s fast break offense isn’t always about immediately scoring, but more about catching the defense on its heels and finding the mismatch. The Thunder did that aplenty in the 3rd quarter and found themselves with a 2 point lead heading into the fourth.
For all the offensive starting and sputtering that occurred in the first 3 quarters, the fourth quarter became a track meet. There was a total of 70 points scored, 6 ties, and 9 lead changes. The pace was frenetic and the energy in the arena was almost playoff like. It was reminiscent of the Thunder/Magic game from last season that went to overtime on a Westbrook halfcourt heave.
The Thunder and Magic seemingly matched each other shot for shot, with unlikely players stepping up. Joffrey Lauvergne hit three 3’s in the quarter. And Payton, one of the worst 3-point shooting point guards in the league, hit 3 from the corner in the quarter.
Westbrook battled it out late in the 4th with the ghosts of Thunder’s past, hitting two deep 2-point jumpers in Ibaka’s face. With 44 seconds left, Ibaka was once again switched onto Westbrook. And as is par for the course, Ibaka fouled Westbrook on a 3-point attempt. Westbrook hit 2 of 3 to put the Thunder up 3.
On the Magic’s next possession, Evan Fournier got loose on a screen and hit a 3 pointer to tie the game with 29 seconds left. On the Thunder’s next possession, Westbrook attempted a 19 footer that was well guarded and missed, with possession going to the Magic.
And then it happened. For all the times Westbrook and Kevin Durant had screamed at Ibaka during their 7 years together. For all the flack Ibaka received for never being a back to the basket player. This was his moment. He got the ball with about 5 seconds left on the baseline. He pump faked Steven Adams and went up for a 9-foot shot. Swish. 0.4 seconds left. For all intents and purposes, ball game.
In his return back to Oklahoma City, not only did Ibaka hit the game-winner, he also scored a career-high 31 points. Ibaka never had any reason to have an eff you game against the Thunder, but if there is ever a time to do it, it might as well be done against the team that traded you away.
Unfortunately, the Thunder wasted a monster triple double from Westbrook in this game. In 37 minutes, Westbrook had 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 16 assists on 14-21 shooting from the field. Efficiency doesn’t even begin to describe that stat line. But alas, it happened in defeat. That’s three losses in a row for the Thunder, who play tomorrow night in Detroit. No rest for the weary.
Everyone knew there would be stretches like this during the season. The Thunder lost to two of the top teams in the NBA, and then started off slow tonight against the Magic. The Thunder no longer have the firepower to fall behind to any opponent, even the inferior ones. It’s a lesson they will likely be taught to the Thunder over and over this season.
- Man, that triple double. It was his most efficient one of the season. The Phoenix triple-double was him just running into a wall until he knocked it down. The Lakers triple-double was good, but he also had 7 turnovers in that one. Only 2 turnovers in this one. The only negative about this triple-double: just 13/18 from the line (72%).
- Serge Ibaka had a monster first quarter, with 13 points, 6 boards, and 4 blocked shots. That totally set him up for the rest of the game on the scoring end. He didn’t register any more blocks on the night, and grabbed just 3 more rebounds for the rest of the game.
- After the game, Steven Adams was asked about the team’s slow start and their effort: “I don’t know. Can’t comment for the rest of the team. It’s just, can’t really come out like that, regardless of the situation. It was good instinct for us to fight back, but if we would’ve come out from the start, we would’ve come out on top of that.”
- Other past Thunder players came back to haunt the Thunder: Jeff Green finished with 11 points and DJ Augustin finished with 12 points. Most of their damage was done in the middle quarters.
- The Thunder players from the Ibaka trade both had off nights. Victor Oladipo finished with 12 points on 6/9 shooting, but never seemed to get in rhythm throughout the game. Domantas Sabonis finished with 3 points on 1/6 shooting and looked like a rookie for most of the night.
- Enes Kanter eats offensive rebounds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner some nights. The third quarter turnaround was completely keyed by Kanter’s presence on the boards. He only had 4 offensive boards for the night, but it felt like he had 12. It isn’t just the offensive boarding, but the ability to do something with it once he’s grabbed it. Kanter led the reserves with 16 points.
- The tape on Steven Adams’ hand bothered him into some missed shots during the game.
Next up: On the road to Detroit for the second night of a back to back on Monday