The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Orlando Magic at home, 119-117. In former Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka’s first return to the team that traded him away in the offseason, Ibaka recorded a career-high 31 points in the place he used to call home, and buried the game-winning jump shot over Steven Adams with less than a second to play.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with a staggering triple-double of 41-16-12 with only two turnovers. However, Westbrook missed an uncharacteristic 5 free throws on the night (13-18 overall) including one that would have put the Thunder up by 4 late, as well as a 19 foot jumper that would have given OKC the lead with 11 seconds remaining. Instead, OKC has now dropped 3 games in a row after starting the season 6-1, with all 3 of the losses coming at home.
Objectively speaking, this was another fantastic early season game. The Magic built an immediate lead against the Thunder, at one point up 40-21 mid-way through the 2nd quarter as OKC struggled to build anything offensively. However, OKC once again stayed in the fight and took a 2 point lead heading into the 4th. The 4th quarter was a wonderful array of shooting on both ends of the court, with the Thunder shooting 64% from the floor and 3-6 from 3-point range. Unfortunately, Orlando did them one better (or two, I guess you could say) by shooting 59% from the floor and 7-11 from 3-point range, with Evan Fournier hitting the tying 3 to knot things up at 117, setting up the Ibaka finale.
As the Thunder offense has continued to perform at a high level, once again the story of this loss was defense, as the Magic, who average only 95 points per outing, closed out the game scoring 37 points in the final quarter. To be sure, a number of their shooters got hot at the right moment, including Fournier going 2-2, and Elfrid Payton, a career 29% 3-point shooter, hitting 3 big shots beyond the arc. However, the defensive breakdowns, after a promising start this season, are putting OKC in significant deficits during games, which only adds to Westbrook’s workload and thereby diminishes their chances to win against teams.
- Much of the defensive breakdowns in the 4th quarter were due to the Thunder’s play at the guard position. Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, and even Andre Roberson got caught chasing behind set plays that left the Magic shooters open for shots. This underscores a major difference between this year’s team and last year’s. Last year’s team, which obviously had Serge as well as #35, evolved into a defensive bulldog because of the range they had on the back line, erasing shots. This year’s team doesn’t have that luxury, and it puts even more pressure on their guards to stay in their lanes, not gamble, and filter the shooters to Steven Adams instead of making him chase them.
- Oladipo was somewhat subdued against his former team. He shot 6-9 from the floor, so he was able to avoid trying too hard, but once again he doesn’t appear to be engaged in the offense, but rather trying to make something for himself most times. In watching the Magic this year, I wonder if they have been simply too perimeter oriented for Oladipo to get used to having big men who know how to work a true PnR.
- Andre Roberson once again played an aggressive offensive game, looking for his shot from three (2-6), but attacking the rim as well to finish with 14 points on 6-11 shooting. What I liked most was that, after bobbling two key possessions in OKC’s loss to the Clippers, Westbrook came back to him twice in the 4th and Roberson delivered 2 big baskets.
- Joffrey Lauvergne. 3-3 from 3-point range in the 4th quarter to bring OKC back. Not bad.
- Free throws. Oof. Winning and losing are often within the margin for error, and OKC left 10 points on the table.
- Prosecco, in case you were wondering. I thought it would be a happy ending.