If you're going to lose a game, at least lose it in style. Right? (courtesy of @JDonSports)
Tobias Harris' buzzer-beating dunk sealed a shocking 103-102 loss for the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Orlando Magic. Harris led his team in scoring with 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting, while also defending Kevin Durant for much of the game. Durant, ever so difficult to defend, still had 29 points on 10-of-22 shooting to go with 12 assists (ties his season high).
This game was very much a tale of two halves. For much of the first half, the Thunder maintained a double-digit lead. While the Magic shot above 50%, the Thunder shot an even higher percentage and were carried by strong three-point shooting as well as Durant's own hot hand against a Magic team that looked ill-prepared to stop him. Things changed in the second half, however. Durant and the rest of the Thunder slowed a little on offense, while the Magic capitalized with spacing and crisp passing to find scoring opportunities. A number of fast break opportunities created by the Magic outworked and outrunning the Thunder, especially in the fourth quarter, also factored in to the comeback.
Despite missing some free throws that could've put them ahead, the Magic pushed their way right back into the game and kept it close towards the end of the game. That allowed them to capitalize on a few Thunder miscues and misfires late, particularly the long rebound off of KD's last miss that allowed the run-out and final dunk at the buzzer.
What is your initial reaction to the result?
When Harris had the game-winning dunk that ended the game, my immediate reaction was "...That was pretty cool." You hate to lose games, but straight up cool basketball plays are, well, straight up cool. It wasn't as if the Thunder played a bad game of basketball. They were able to run their offense and get good shots, with or without Durant on the floor. For the most part, they made those shots. As a team, the Thunder broke the 50-40-90 mark tonight: 50.7% from the field, 45.5% from three and 94.7% from the line.
The Magic's pick-and-roll coverage looked a little loose at times, and Durant and Ibaka capitalized with a two-man game. Reggie Jackson, inefficient recently, continued his struggles but still came up with a pair of big midrange jumpers in the fourth quarter to help the Thunder maintain their footing against the surging Magic. Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher hit a bunch of threes. PJ3 looked very spry in his brief 11 minutes of playing time. However, the problem was the Thunder's defense. As well as the Thunder played on offense, they couldn't keep the Magic down.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
You could isolate the final few sequences of the game that decided it, or the handful of plays that led into it (luck becomes a factor in such a small sample size). But, I'll take the Thunder's struggles to contain an unimposing Magic offense. The Magic shot 47.5% for the game, including 41.7% from three and 84.6% on a considerable 26 free throw attempts. It's one thing to allow that to one of the better teams in the NBA, but the Magic are second-last in the Eastern Conference. There's no star on this team that draws significant defensive attention, nor has Jacque Vaughn installed some genius system into their offense.
Instead, what did the Thunder in was floor spacing, a lot of designed motion, and tic-tac-toe passing among Magic players to create good scoring opportunities. Credit the Magic for being both quick and decisive with their passes to cause breakdowns in the Thunder's defense (many of which actually saw Ibaka bail out the Thunder from allowing an easy basket with a timely recovery), but it can't be so easy for a team that runs its offense around players like Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris and Glen Davis. No offense intended to those players, but the Thunder will be seeing much, much worse in the playoffs. We've seen this team go through lapses of uninspired defense before, and it's always worrying.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
As well as the Magic shot, the Thunder still shot better. So, why didn't they win? Well, perhaps the deciding factor was more scoring chances. By this, I don't necessarily mean good opportunities, but just more possessions to try and get a score with. The Thunder turned the ball over 16 times compared to the Magic's 9, while the Magic snagged 10 offensive rebounds to the Thunder's 4. That's 13 possessions for the Magic that the Thunder didn't get.
What happened? Turnovers were fine in the first half, but things got out of hand (yes, pun intended) after that. Some of these were just great energy plays by the Magic to get on the ball-handler and make a play, but some of them were totally unforced. Reggie Jackson and Kevin Durant simply threw some passes too hard or missed their man. We've seen turnovers before, and we continue to see it. On the glass, Nikola Vucevic turned out to be hard to contain (not too surprising) and both Harris and Davis contributed as well. Ibaka led the Thunder in rebounds... with six. Yikes.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
Does last Saturday's weak loss to the Washington Wizards still stain in your memory? The Thunder looked more competent in this one, but they lost to an even worse team. The Thunder are 2-2 in their last four games, and even while that's still too small a sample to get worked up over, you do start to feel a little anxious. Get back to your winning ways, guys! Stop dropping games to teams that you should beat!
But yeah, the panic button is still well off the minds of the Thunder fans, as it should be after winning ten in a row before the Wizards loss. Maybe you take a look over to make sure that button still exists just in case you need to press it later on, but nobody's worried yet.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 29 points (10-of-22 field goal shooting), 12 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 block
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka - 26 points (10-of-13 field goal shooting), 6 rebounds, 5 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Reggie Jackson - 12 points (4-of-14 field goal shooting), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals
Thunder Plunderer: Tobias Harris - 18 points (6-of-17 field goal shooting), 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, game-winning dunk!
Next game: vs. New York Knicks @ Chesapeake Energy Arena (Sunday, February 9th @ 12:00 PM CMT)