Ah, my first recap of the 2011-2012 season. Normally, I'd post something really intriguing as the first line, but I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate just how awesome that is. Also, it's pretty awesome starting the season on Christmas Day. It's like that long-awaited Christmas present that you just can't wait to open and play with. People wore Santa hats, everybody was in a joyous mood, and the atmosphere couldn't be better. Combining Christmas Day and Opening Day would be a great idea, were it not for the waiting and hating involved.
Anyway, the game we saw tonight was a reflection of just how awesome the new look Thunder are. The leading scorer for the Magic was Ryan Anderson. Howard was held to 11. J-Rich had 2. And Turkoglu shot 30%. In other words, the defense was tremendous. The Thunder were constantly shutting down the lane, and the only way the Magic got consistent points was at the line or via Ryan Anderson exploiting a mismatch on the perimeter.
Though it looks like the Magic mounted a comeback late in the fourth, the game was pretty much over in the second quarter. Dwight Howard may not have scored a lot of points, but he was essential defensively, and he could be occasionally relied upon to do some passing work offensively. When he was out of the game, namely in the second, the Magic looked lost. Glen Davis is too short to play center, and he's far from providing the defensive intimidation that Howard does. Couple that with the soft Ryan Anderson playing alongside him, and you have the recipe for a defensive disaster. With that combo in the game, the Thunder pretty much owned the paint. Heck, even Collison had a highlight reel dunk during that period.
Below: The Magic's 4th Quarter Comeback, Individual Player Analysis, Awards!
How did the Magic mount a comeback in the fourth quarter? Well, the Thunder's offense stalled out again. Yep, the same problem that plagued us during last year's playoffs has re-surfaced. It's not like the Magic were much better, because at that point they were relying on silly Von Wafer drives and Ryan Anderson threes. Still, they did get to within five before the Thunder woke up and shut the game down. Considering the Magic still have the talent to be a playoff team, I'm not too concerned about the offensive lapse....yet.
Sefolosha and Perkins really emerged as offensive weapons in this game, even if only in subtle ways. Sefolosha had an impressive stretch early, hitting a mid-range jumper and a three that got the crowd riled up. He went 3 of 5 for the night, and showed the efficient offense Turkish fans came to know him for on Fenerbahce Ulker. Sure, he'll never be James Harden, but he did a lot tonight to remind us all why he's on the roster. Perkins only had 6 points and two attempts, but each time he touched the ball, he looked like he knew what he was doing. He had an impressive looking hook in the first that I didn't even know he was capable of, and his other layup was sweet in traffic. It'll take a while to get him back to his Boston level, but man, I loved seeing him play tonight.
There is a sad side to this game, however. Serge Ibaka looked lost on the floor tonight. He wasn't committing stupid mistakes left and right like Serge Ibaka 1.0, but he was pretty much the forgotten man on offense. When I saw him play in Europe for Spain and Real Madrid, Serge definitely took on a less important role than what he had with the Thunder. His mid-range jumper was pretty much AWOL, and the only times he scored were on putbacks. He was pretty much used as a rebounding and blocking machine, which is what we saw out of him here tonight. I'm not too worried about his game yet, but we'll definitely be keeping an eye on his progress heading into the first few games of the season.
Russell Westbrook was still his reckless self, with a whopping 7 turnovers. Sometimes I thought he was Wild N' Out with Nick Cannon just for the heck of it. It wasn't like he was especially pressured by Jameer Nelson or Chris Duhon. He was just making too many stupid drives, making too many long passes, and not doing anything really responsible. Granted, he was the reason we had a few good fast breaks, but I'm not sure he did more good than harm when running like a maniac all over the floor. Still, he had solid steal, rebound, and assist numbers, so it wasn't a totally lost night for him.
I wouldn't call tonight a coming out party for James Harden. 10 of his points came from the line, and most of them came during the time that the Magic couldn't defend the lane to save their lives. I'd need to see him do the same against a more consistent team before declaring this year his breakout year. Oh yeah, and Kevin Durant had an excellent game with 30 points. Business as usual. Yawn?
Moving forward, this win puts the Thunder at 1-0 and leaves them atop the Western Conference Standings. The loss for the Magic puts them at 0-1 and leaves them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference Standings. It's a long season. We'll see the Magic again in March.
Awards (Via Dara Mirzaie):
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 30 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists
Thunder Down Under: Kendrick Perkins, 6 points, 4 rebounds
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, 0 points, 6 rebounds
Thunder Plunder: Ryan Anderson 25 points, 10 rebounds
Next Game: At the Minnesota Timberwolves, Monday, December 26th, 7 PM Central Standard Time