Biggest win of the year?
I'd say so. It's not the most intense win of the year, but I've never seen the Thunder manhandle such a good team throughout the game and then shut them out so well in the fourth. Sure, the Magic did get dangerously close, but the Thunder were always in control of their destiny, and (for the most part) made plays when it mattered.
The Thunder advantage started in the first, when the Thunder were consistently making easy jumpers and the Magic were struggling to find open shots. The Magic fell behind by as much as 12 before their subs reported in and saved the day, with Ryan Anderson scoring 9 late in the quarter.
The second quarter mostly consisted with the Thunder's lead bobbing back and forth, while the third was where an unlikely hero emerged: Nenad Krstic. In a game where most would expect the soft big man to get consistently dominated down low, Krstic did well, pulling down 11 rebounds, and offsetting Howard's dominance, scoring 16 to Howard's 39. Sure, Dwight had a much, much better game, but 14 of Howard's points came in the fourth, while Krstic was on the bench. It's much better than can be said for Ibaka, who only had 6.
Below: The Fourth, Howard Playing with Fans, Future Analysis, Awards!
The fourth quarter was spent on damage control. The Thunder were ahead by 12 at one point, but Dwight Howard just kept getting fouled down low, while the Thunder would hit every other shot or so. Eventually, the heat needed to contain Howard opened up some deadly Orlando shooters, allowing Orlando to make a run. The worst part came when Ibaka missed a free throw, Redick followed up with a three, Westbrook missed a sloppy three, and Dwight Howard got an easy bucket inside. This put the Magic down by one with 4:46 to go. But the Thunder didn't need a timeout, as they came right back with a couple of threes and a pair of free throws, stretching their lead back to 7. The Magic did eventually get back to within a possession, but they never had the ball again while being less than two possessions down. The most solid moment came when the Thunder dribbled out the shot clock and Kevin Durant hit a smooth, responsible jumper to put the Thunder up by 4 with 8 seconds to go. Some fouls and a farce of a buzzer-beater by Jason Richardson got the Magic closer, but it didn't matter. The Thunder had won on national television, and proved their place as the leaders (technically) of the Northwest Division.
Aside from the great Thunder performance, what made the game much more entertaining to watch was Dwight Howard. Some people don't like his wacky antics, but those people need to take a stick out of you know where. After watching Thunder players be serious or pissed off 100% of the time, and not allowed by the organization to show more than traces of individuality, seeing someone like Dwight have a little bit of fun on the floor was a huge breath of fresh air. He talked to fans at halftime (in particular, he waved to a teenage girl's friends in a higher section for her, and criticized Thunder Man's muscles), and he talked to the ball on a few occasions. Now, I'm not saying that I hate the Thunder players for their demeanor, or that the Thunder organization is a new form of the Gestapo. But, I am saying that I do want to see a little bit of flair. Where did James Harden's headband go? Why doesn't Ibaka spread his wings after a dunk anymore? Why did Russell Westbrook shave off his Mohawk when he got back to training camp? They can't all be coincidences. Regardless, Dwight Howard was a nice break from all that, and aside from his complete dominance down low, it was great to have him in Oklahoma City.
With this loss, the Magic drop to 25-14 overall, and 9-4 since the big trade. Not bad numbers by any stretch, but Magic fans are definitely desiring much more this season. But, as the team continues to grow together, their record should improve. Meanwhile, the Thunder go to 27-14, extending their winning streak to 4. Not Heat-like by any stretch of the imagination, but if we can beat the Lakers on Monday, we will definitely start to turn some heads.
On to the Awards....
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 32 Points, 10 Rebounds, 13 Assists, 1 Turnover, 1 Steal, 2 Blocks. A career performance from this guy. Never undervalue the triple-double.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, 36 Points, 4 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 1 Steal, 1 Block. Some great clutch play, and had it no been for Westbrook's amazing performance tonight, he's the easy Thunder Wonder.
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, 6 Points, 4 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 2 Turnovers, 1 Steal, 2 Blocks, 6 Fouls. Decent enough on it's own, but he had another boneheaded three second call in crunch time, and he allowed Howard to dominate him in the paint.
Thunder Plunderer: Dwight Howard, 39 Points, 17-20 Free Throws, 18 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 2 Blocks. Sometimes, you've just got to let your superstar play. And man, did Dwight Howard play.
Next Game: At the Los Angeles Lakers, Monday, January 17th, 9:30 PM Central Standard Time.