In a game that came down to the very last play, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to pull out a thrilling win over the Orlando Magic, 117-114. All of the big names were involved during the critical final seconds.
Here's how it went down. With about 57 seconds to go, the Magic are up two and have possession. The Magic give it to Vucevic. Vucevic pump fakes a few times, but misses a shot that was well defended by Steven Adams. Then, it appears as if Payton gets the offensive rebound. But then Westbrook steals it from behind, and calls timeout.
With 38 seconds to go, the Thunder must score. Westbrook immediately goes to the rim around a Durant screen and trades the two for one. Now, the Magic have the ball and must shoot. Oladipo gets the ball, and Ibaka switches onto him around a screen. Oladipo drives, but is blocked by Ibaka with 12 seconds to go. Waiters corrals the rebound, and the ball is quickly funneled to KD.
With only seconds remaining and the score tied, KD gets an isolation with Tobias Harris. The Thunder have a timeout, but they don't call it. Durant fakes to the basket, and Harris stumbles. That was all the space KD needed to nail the dagger three, with just 0.5 seconds remaining. The Magic had time for a miracle response three, but Oladipo's heave was short. I didn't think anything could top the last Thunder-Magic game, but this one was at least as good, if not better.
The Dominant Duo
Westbrook had the most eye-popping stats of the night, finishing with his third straight triple-double. This marks the first time in Westbrook's career that he has ever registered three triple-doubles in a row. It is Westbrook's eighth triple-double of the season, which puts him just three short of last season's total. If the triple-double weren't amazing enough, consider the fact that Westbrook nabbed a career high 19 rebounds. Watching Westbrook tonight was almost like witnessing the second coming of Dennis Rodman, just in a smaller body. Just so much effort from Westbrook there, running in from behind people to surprise them with his effort. Someone needs to make a highlight reel of Westbrook's boards alone, seriously. Also also, I have to throw in that Westbrook had 11 assists and no turnovers....at the half.
Durant's stats aren't as all-around dominant as Westbrook's. But consider that Durant nailed three triples in the last six minutes of the game. Durant was definitely the Thunder's certified closer tonight. The point total for Durant wasn't too bad either: 37, good for KD's third best performance of the season. (KD's second highest scoring game came against the Magic, if you were wondering.) Tonight was a season high for Durant in terms of threes made, with 6. The non-clutch threes that Durant made were off of assists. It was easier for Durant to get open than normal because the Magic had to over commit to protect the rim. Durant was truly effective from all areas though. Generally speaking, Durant got in the paint in transition and scored his mid-ranges in offensive sets. But there were a couple of nice drives by Durant as well.
Defensive disasters....with a couple triumphs
The Thunder definitely had their share of defensive problems tonight. The Magic shot 49% from the floor, and 43% from three. Furthermore, the Magic committed only 9 turnovers. Really, the only area of defense that the Thunder were good at tonight was rebounding. The Thunder were +7 on the offensive boards, and + 14 on the defensive boards. That's because Coach Donovan elected to stay big for virtually the whole game. Aside from a 1:30 stretch at the end of the first, Donovan either went traditional or had two centers playing.
The downside to Donovan's lineups is that Orlando's pick and pop big men were free to roam. Nikola Vucevic shot 5 of 8 from outside the paint, while Jason Smith shot 5 of 5. But even that strategy had a hidden upside. Vucevic shot just 3 of 8 inside the paint.
There were a few other interesting aspects to the Thunder's defense. Westbrook was content to let Payton shoot the ball as much as he wanted, and Payton responded by shooting 1 of 5 outside the paint. As a result, Payton couldn't get to the hoop either, as Westbrook was waiting for him there. Oladipo had a bit more success against Westbrook though, surprising Russ in transition on multiple occasions. Otherwise, Oladipo had no trouble drawing mismatches or getting around the smaller Waiters for mid-range shots.
Meanwhile, Aaron Gordon had an absolutely miserable night matched up with Serge Ibaka. Just 1 of 10 shooting, mostly within 10 feet. Just couldn't hit a jumper, and the Thunder were really committed to protecting drives to the rim. That's Gordon's M.O., so it makes sense that he had a bad night.
Tobias Harris had 15 points on 7 of 14 shooting, mostly playing against KD. What stands out most to me was Harris' aggressiveness in attacking the rim, causing the Thunder to blow their pick and roll coverage. Also a three from Harris against a too-slow KD.
Overall, I'd say the Thunder's defensive problems were born out of a deliberate desire to give minutes to Adams, Durant, and Ibaka. OKC isn't going to be able to force turnovers when they're bigger than the other team, nor are they going to be able to defend the arc. So the Thunder had to focus on rebounding. Perhaps Roberson could offer a lot in this scenario. Roberson has the ever elusive perimeter defense, as well as an advantage on the boards that most guards don't. Get well soon Dre!
- Serge Ibaka had 6 blocks, tying him for his second best total this season! Only 4 of 11 from the field, but I loved the shot distribution. Ibaka is making the decision to get a bit more aggressive off the pick and pop and in the paint. This results in closer shots and more rebounding opportunities. The threes will fall some nights, others not. But what Serge made tonight, he can make every night.
- Dion Waiters had a ridiculously quiet 36 minutes, taking just 6 shots. But I really loved the offensive performance I saw out of Waiters tonight. Two threes from the wings, and four shots at the rim. The threes from the wings were catch and shoot, and will miss sometimes. But Waiters was 2 of 4 in the paint, which is a good number for him. Most notably, I saw Waiters deliver a couple of slick passes out of double-teams in the post. Sure, there were still two drives that Waiters arguably shouldn't have made. But the decision-making is improving, and Waiters was never in the way. Definitely get this guy a couple more shots, he's earned it. I'm sure Waiters was wide open on more than one possession down the stretch.
- Steven Adams had an unusually high +14 +/- ratio tonight, which should tell you something of his contribution. Vucevic was the center of Orlando's offense when he was in the game, and it was Adams job to slow him down. Adams also had to concentrate on protecting the rim and forcing shots outside, which he did well. Vucevic was able to get a couple of nifty hooks on Adams with his quickness, but was still below his season averages of points and boards. I give props to Adams for the work early on on offense as well. Adams was essential to creating separation for Russ, and got a couple of cool dunks as well.
- Cameron Payne did his thing, hitting three shots in the wings around screens. The Magic were willing to let Payne shoot, and he obliged. Also, there was a ridiculous stretch of the second quarter were Payne got three assists in 90 seconds. Dish to Singler off a screen, a three to Morrow off a drive, a three to Singler in transition.
- Anthony Morrow was just 2 of 8 tonight. Not awful, but Morrow just couldn't get much going with moving shots around screens. And Morrow never gets a chance to set for his threes. But everyone knows shooting is his thing, so that's live. Wasn't impressed with Morrow's defense of Hezonja on the perimeter. But with Hezonja's height, what is Morrow supposed to do?
- Enes Kanter had 13 points and 17 rebounds in 16 minutes. I actually liked the defensive effort from Kanter today, as he worked to recover onto matchups that weren't his. But there were moments of bad Kanter, like when he let Harris waltz by in transition. KD wasn't happy about that one. What I'll most remember about Kanter's performance are his 5 tremendous offensive boards, as well as how he was able to generate points with Westbrook in the pick and roll. Also, don't forget Kanter's corner three to start the fourth, that was pretty sweet.
- Kyle Singler gave up paint points to Tobias Harris and Evan Fournier on defense. But Singler made up for it with 2 steals, along with a solid 2 of 4 shooting night. The three, amazingly, was a stepback into the corner. The Magic didn't bother to cover Singler on that play.
- Nick Collison had a disaster of a 5 minutes. That's saying nothing about Collison's effort, but it just wasn't his game. Collison lost the ball to Jason Smith in the paint while working a futile pick and roll, and let Channing Frye score on him in the paint.
- Westbrook went back to his cotton shot a few times tonight, which I liked.
- Yes, Adams new handlebar moustache is incredible
- "Lookin' forward to going out there on the court and taking care of business, like we usually do"- Russ on the upcoming Warrior game
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, no timeout needed
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, rebound czar
Thunder Blunder: Anthony Morrow, who can only be judged by his shooting
Thunder Plunderer: Victor Oladipo, the strong opportunist
Next Game: At the Golden State Warriors, Saturday, February 6th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!