The Oklahoma City Thunder survived a late scare from the Orlando Magic, winning by a hare's breadth, 101-98. The Magic nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback, as they trailed by 16 points in the 4th and 12 points with 3 minutes to go.
A combination of unfocused defense, quick shots on offense, and careless turnovers turned what should have been a double digit win that ended in lots of free throws turned into a harrowing experience for the team as Orlando had the ball and a chance to tie the game on the next to last possession of the game. Fortunately on their final sequence, Glen Davis was forced into a difficult fadeaway 3-pointer and Serge Ibaka blocked Nikola Vucevic's layup attempt. The block was originally called a goaltend on the court, but a replay reversal overturned the bucket and led to a mid-court jump ball. Orlando somehow won it, but their desperation 3 at the end came too late.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant, who scored 28 on 11-18 shooting and grabbed 9 rebounds. The bench was once again a strong point, as Jeremy Lamb is showing signs of consistency by getting another double digit game. On this night, Lamb scored 16 on 7-10 shooting.
The Magic were led by Arron Afflalo, who scored 25 points. Rookie Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points on 5-12 shooting.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Thunder and OKC fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief, because for the final 2 minutes of the game we were getting flashbacks from OKC's squeaker over the Kings two weeks ago. Just as in that game, the Thunder had what appeared to be control over the outcome only to see it rapidly slip away in the end. Were it not for some timely defensive stops, that game, just as this one, could have had a very different outcome.
For the most part, the game was a solid if unspectacular one. The Magic gamely kept within reach for most of the night, but seemed to finally succumb to the Thunder pressure in the 4th, falling behind by 16 points. That should have been it, were it not for the Thunder collectively turning into all thumbs. Fortunately this one goes into the win column, but there were plenty of late game reasons that it shouldn't have.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
Even with both Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka struggling on the night, the Thunder simply have too much talent for the Magic to handle. Orlando was looking to get a lot of open 3-point looks to keep the game close, but OKC has improved greatly in their perimeter defense. The Thunder allowed only 7-24 shooting from long range by Orlando.
Fortunately for Durant and the Thunder, the bench, led by Jeremy Lamb, once again was a big difference in buoying the lead. Lamb scored 16 points in efficient manner, as Lamb continues to grow in his assertiveness. There is no hesitation at all in his shot attempts, as he has recognized that the team trusts him to shoot open shots. Lamb is now shooting 52.3% from the floor and 40.9% from 3-point range in the month of December.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
Through 3 quarters, the Thunder were just a little bit better in all regards, and that led to a comfortable 12 point lead heading into the 4th quarter. Not every win needs to involve the Thunder's best ball, but it does require attentiveness to the details and for most of the game, the focus was there.
Much of the focus came on the defensive end, as the Thunder did a great job preventing Orlando from getting too many easy buckets. OKC held them to only 30 points in the paint despite an active Vucevic, while getting 50 points in the paint on the other end of the court.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder need to shake off the rust of this game because on Tuesday it is off to the race tracks again as they head to Denver. Hopefully the defensive energy will remain, but next time out the Thunder will be a little bit better prepared for a close encounter as the clock runs out.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 28 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
Thunder Down Under: Jeremy Lamb, 16 points on 7-10 shooting, 3 rebounds, 3 assists
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, for 0-5 shooting (now 15-48 from 3 in month of Dec)
Thunder Plunderer: Nikola Vucevic, 13 points, 16 rebounds
Next game: @ Denver Nuggets on Tuesday Dec. 17 at 8PM CDT