At the outset of a shorter season that figures to favor teams with a longer bench, the Thunder opened with a 97-89 victory over the Orlando Magic thanks in large part to an “A” effort from its “B” team.
It was the OKC reserves who took a 21-18 deficit and flipped it to a 27-22 lead in the closing minutes of the first quarter.
It was the Thunder's B Team that took an 11-point lead in the third quarter and doubled it for an 85-63 lead with 8:21 left in the game.
From that point on, not even a sloppy finish could ruin the opening game of a season many project could bring the Western Conference crown to the fourth-year franchise from OKC.
“They came in both halves and gave us a spark,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of James Harden, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, Nazr Mohammed and Daequan Cook. “I thought they played well. It's very important for us to continue to build that ‘everybody has a role' type of mentality, and they have.”
The Thunder looked good at times, out of sync at times and the sellout crowd of 18,203 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena even seemed bored at times, but those who stuck around until the end wound up chanting “O-K-C” in the closing seconds.
Two-time scoring champ Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 30 points and also added six assists, five rebounds and two steals. Russell Westbrook had 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but also committed seven turnovers.
All five OKC reserves played at least double-digit minutes and when the entire quintet was on the court, it outscored the Magic 24-17.
The backups were led by Harden, who had 19 points, six rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes.
“Let's face it,” Brooks said, “he's our sixth starter. He comes in and he makes things happen. He attacks. He play-makes and he defends. He was doing a great job defensively against (J.J.) Redick. He's like the energizer bunny. He's always moving around, and they set great screens and James chased him. He was all over him throughout the night."
Maynor had eight points and three assists. Cook had six points on two 3-pointers, and Mohammed had six rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Eric does a great job of handling that group very well,” Brooks said. “He knows what to do, he finds the shooters and he knows who has the hot hand.”
The Magic started the game shooting 8 for 9 from the field and led 18-11, but finished the first quarter shooting 1 for 15. Orlando shot just 37.0 percent (30 for 81) from the floor on the night and 28.6 percent (8 for 28) from 3-point range.
“I didn't think we were good at all in the first half, but we got much better in the second half,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Offensively, we were just not good all night.”
Forward Ryan Anderson led Orlando with 25 points, 6 for 12 shooting from 3-point range and 10 rebounds. Point guard Jameer Nelson had 18 points and six assists, and first-team All-NBA pick Dwight Howard had 15 rebounds and 11 points.
“I thought our defense was really good,” Brooks said. “We started off the game, they were making some tough shots. Orlando's one of the best teams in the league. They're one of the best offensive teams in basketball. They have Howard rolling to the basket, and their shooters are all over the floor. Anderson shoots like a shooting guard at 6-foot-10.”
The Thunder shot 47.2 percent (34 for 72) from the field and 52.6 percent (10 for 19) from 3-point range.
“Offensively, we had some good spurts,” Brooks said. “Kevin probably had his best passing game. He was finding open shooters across the court and that's when we've been stressing all of training camp.”
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