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Thunder vs Magic, final score: bench rescues OKC from another bad loss, shuts down Orlando 112-105

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OKC starters struggled for much of the way, but the Thunder bench stepped up big time.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

box score | Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Orlando Magic at home, 112-105. The Thunder, after trailing for much of the first half, finally broke through in the 3rd quarter in a game where they still appeared punch drunk after getting knocked down vs the Warriors two nights ago. But behind an active bench and Paul George’s 26-8-3 performance, as well as a Westbrook near-triple-double (8-11-12, 7 TOs), OKC managed to hang on.

It was once again a rocky start for the Thunder defense, who gave up 38 points to the 18-win Magic on 70% shooting and 6-8 from 3-point range. After last game vs Orlando where OKC’s defense was also shredded, the start held an ominous tone. However, following a strong bench spurt, led by Raymond Felton and Alex Abrines, OKC surged forward and went into the half down only a point.

After playing the Magic to a standstill through much of the 3rd, the bench once again ignited the shift in the game’s tone. The defense had been mostly good after being mostly bad in the 1st, but the ragged offense was undermining OKC’s opportunities to gain a lead. But the bench finally broke through, scoring the quarter’s final 7 points to give OKC a lead heading into the 4th. They helped build the lead to 10 midway through as OKC’s starters returned, but Billy Donovan might have been better suited to lead his backups on the court. Once again the offense once again ground to a halt, managing only 11 points over the final 6 minutes of play, with multiple possessions ending with no passes and a long, contested two.

Fortunately for OKC, their defense was up to the challenge and, although yielding several threes to make the game closer than it should have been, refused to give 2nd chance opportunities while making their own free throws. In the words of Stringer Bell, it was indeed a 40 degree day, but that’s still better than having to explain to Avon and Weebay why a team this loaded is on the outside of the playoff race looking in. Move on.

Random Notes

  • Paul George wasn’t great tonight, but he was far better than he was vs the Warriors. Though his jumper seems to have left him, PG still worked off the dribble to finish at the rim and at the free throw line to lead the way.
  • The bench by contrast was striking in its precision, efficiency, and physicality. Along with playing solid defense, they shot 18-30 to produce 48 points. Felton finished with 13 and 4 assists, Patrick Patterson had 11 off 4-4 shooting (2 threes), while Jerami Grant finished with 10 and Alex Abrines with 12, including being on the receiving end of OKC’s standard back-door lob play.
  • Oh, and our favorite slender man Terrence Ferguson, who still struggled in spots, had several hustle plays that will have to be the staple of his contribution here on out. One highlight — he had what could only be called an alley-oop bounce pass from PG:
  • Russell Westbrook, despite almost recording a triple-double, once again saw his jumper and finishing ability leave him. Perhaps it is the residual from the Zaza Pachulia incident, but Russ mostly deferred his own shot to set up his teammates (3-12 shooting). He had 12 assists, but often forced the issue, especially late when he was trying to jam the ball into Steven Adams. One sign of possible lingering pain — I can’t recall a single set where he posted up D.J. Augustin, who is 4 feet tall.
  • If Russ was bad, Carmelo Anthony was worse, to the point where he really shouldn’t have been on the court at all. It pains me to say it, but it is damning that this game, against a lottery team that is likely tanking the rest of the season, could make Melo look so bad. He is particularly exposed against athletic power forwards like Aaron Gordon, but even then he continuously hurt his team on both ends of the court every time he was involved in a play. It was striking how much more competent the Thunder looked when Patterson replaced him.
  • Adams started strong, but by the end of the game his teammates did a poor job setting him up. Staying with the standard PnR far too long, they never altered the set and let the light-up-front Magic to collapse on him and cut off the passes and driving lanes.

Next game: @ Dallas Mavericks at 7:30 PM CST.