The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Orlando Magic, 97-89. In a game where the Thunder were looking to snap a two game losing streak, they overcame a weak 3rd quarter to hold off the Magic in the 4th quarter. The Thunder were no doubt looking to come away with a statement-like win against the moribund Magic, but it was perhaps the feisty Magic who were looking to make a statement instead. They had the game knotted at 86 with 2:46 to play and the Thunder were on the ropes.
Fortunately, Kevin Durant, who led the Thunder with 25 points and 8 rebounds, connected with two consecutive 3-pointer to give the Thunder a lead they would not relinquish. He was aided by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds,9 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
The Magic were led by Moe Harkless, who finished with an identical 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 blocks.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
What can we say? Kevin Durant said it was a must-win game, and they won the game. Barely.
Honestly, right now all I'm looking for is an inflection point. The Thunder had been wobbly for weeks, and then experienced a one-two punch by losing to Denver and Memphis. I didn't think they'd actually lose to Orlando, but dang if it didn't come awfully close to happening.
I think the Thunder will rebound in the same way the American economy rebounds after a recession, but in order for the recession to actually end, an inflection point has to be crossed. That's when we know we've hit bottom.
Have we hit bottom? Trailing Orlando in the 4th quarter in game #70? Is this it?
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder shook off the cobwebs out of their brains just in time to put together a decisive close. They played in front most of the night, but the Magic's Harkless played the game of his young career and kept the weaker team in the game long past comfortability.
With the game tied at 86, Durant hit a 3-pointer to push the Thunder to a lead that they would never lose. They followed it up by hitting (most of) their free throws over the final 2 minutes will holding the Magic without a field goal over that time. In that final 2:44, the Thunder closed out with an 8-2 run.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
There aren't really any numbers to soften the fact that the Thunder should have thoroughly outplayed the Magic, and yet were trailing in the 4th quarter.
You could argue that OKC held the Magic to 41.3% shooting, but that mark is offset by the fact that OKC shot 42.5% themselves from the floor against one of the worst defensive teams in the league. You could argue that OKC did a good job taking advantage of the absence of Vucevic by pounding the ball inside to the tune of 46 points in the paint, until you realize that the Magic actually outscored them in this metric, 50-46.
Perhaps the only statistic that matters is the end is '0' and '35' which are not really statistics at all, but jersey numbers. OKC had them, Orlando did not. That was just enough to give the Thunder their 'must' win.
Also, a special shoutout to Magic forward Harkless, who had a remarkable game against a superior opponent. This is what NBA reporter Alex Kennedy had to say:
I recently described Maurice Harkless as a "franchise cornerstone" and got blasted. What do you call a 19-year-old who has 25-9-4-4?— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 23, 2013
That's pretty good.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
Let's hope that was the inflection point.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steal
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 14 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Derek Fisher, another 0-fer in 12 minutes
Thunder Plunderer: Moe Harkless, 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 steals
Next game: vs the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, at 6PM CDT
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.