Thunder 97, Magic 89
Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s win at Orlando.
- This is why players generally shy away from labeling games “must wins.”
- Had the Thunder lost this game, which, amazingly, was still a very real possibility with less than a minute to play, Kevin Durant would have been in an extremely awkward position. It was Durant, of course, who deemed tonight’s game a must-win.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks said something at his team’s Friday morning shoot-around that ultimately would ring true about tonight’s game. “They’re not going to give up,” Brooks said of the Magic. “And that’s a good trait to have with a good group of young players. They’re going to keep fighting for 48 minutes, and they put themselves in a position to make it a close game because of their effort and commitment to not giving up.” That’s exactly what the Magic did despite being young and injury plagued. For that, you’ve got to be impressed with Orlando.
- That youth, however, is basically what doomed Orlando. With a chance to rock the Thunder to the core and take complete control down the stretch with a bucket here or there, the Magic made one poor decision after another. In the final six minutes, when the Thunder clogged up the paint, Orlando continued to drive and get rejected at the rim. Five times in fact. And on the biggest possession of the game, Tobias Harris threw the ball away while trying to get it inbounds.
- “When the game gets close like that you’ve got to find a way to will your team to wins and find a way to get a victory,” said Russell Westbrook. “I think that’s what we did tonight.”
- The Magic lost this game only because they’re still learning how to do that.
- Magic coach Jacque Vaughn took a timeout 42 seconds into the game. The score was 3-0, Thunder. I couldn’t believe it. To his credit, Orlando went on a 2-0 run after that timeout. Good call, coach!
- It would have been one thing to lose to Orlando. But once the Magic announced big man Nikola Vucevic, who hung 21 and 14 on OKC in the last meeting, was out, in addition to Arron Afflalo (hamstring) going down two minutes into the second, the Thunder absolutely, positively could not lose this one.
- With all due respect to my main man Kyle O’Quinn, if the Magic had a single big man who could bang down low tonight Orlando probably gets out of here with a win. The Magic simply couldn’t keep up with the Thunder’s rebounding and efficiency scoring inside.
- Nobody who reads this will ever know how my heart felt when I heard the PA guy bellow before the game: “At center, from Norfolk State, No. 2, Kyle O’Quinn.” Just know it was a special, special moment.
- Thabo Sefolosha was credited for one steal. That’s got to be a mistake. Seemed like he had at least three in the first quarter alone.
- The Magic wore “El Magic” jerseys tonight as part of the league’s Noche Latina campaign. Wonder why the Thunder doesn’t have “El Thunder” jerseys.
- When KD started the game 3-for-3, it seemed like he was going to go for 40 tonight.
- Durant missed a layup two minutes into the second. Not often you see that. Looked sort of similar to Westbrook.
- Later, Serge Ibaka missed a dunk. Better hope this isn’t spreading.
- Speaking of Ibaka. Nice bounce back game for him. Granted, the Magic had only two guys with size on the court all night and both were rookies. Still. After scoring a combined eight points with eight rebounds in his previous two games, Ibaka scored 14 with a team-high 13 rebounds and a game-high five blocked shots tonight.
- Brooks on Ibaka: “Serge is very prideful. And I am too about Serge’s game. I wanted him to play much better. Give us some defensive energy. Give us some game-changing shots. And he did that tonight. He blocked four or five shots right at the rim. Those are point-blank layups.”
- Perry Jones III and DeAndre Liggins had freshly-cut Mohawks tonight.
- Liggins randomly started the fourth quarter. Never mind the Thunder led by just four points and he hadn’t played meaningful minutes in a month.
- Nick Collison was a game-time decision tonight with a groin contusion. After testing it out shortly before the game, he played. And he ended up playing extremely well. Scored 11 points with three rebounds and an assist. As is normally the case, he was an unsung hero. When the game’s outcome was in the balance, it was Collison who provided a bucket here and a drawn charge there to keep the Magic at bay. Very workmanlike night for Collison, with a groin contusion no less.
- Since it was a bad opponent, I thought Derek Fisher was going to score at least eight points. I was wrong. Scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting with an assist a foul and a turnover in 12 minutes. But he did grab three rebounds that essentially landed in his lap.
- I’ve had three debates, two of which could be classified more as arguments, in recent days with Brooks about his rotation. All three have started with why Reggie Jackson isn’t playing more. All three ultimately ended on Fisher’s playing time. I would share Scotty’s reasoning, but they were “off-the-record” conversations and, frankly, I still don’t quite understand it. Just know that it’s not much different that what you hear “on the record.”
- Two reasons I share that tidbit with you. 1) To let any and everyone know that Brooks has indeed had to answer numerous questions about Fisher contrary to what some believe. 2) To share a stat that today’s conversation led me to research. Jackson before Fisher arrived averaged four points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.8 turnovers in 11.9 minutes. He shot 44.9 percent in those 44 games. Since Fisher’s arrival and prior to tonight’s game, Jackson has averaged 7.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.7 turnovers in 16.1 minutes. He’s shot 48 percent in those 13 contests. With that said, my assumption that Fisher is “taking minutes from Jackson” is slightly off base. Jackson’s minutes, as you can see, have actually increased since Fisher joined the team. I still contend, however, that Fisher is playing minutes that Jackson (or others) could be more productive in. Lastly, you could either conclude from the aforementioned stats that Jackson is better with Fish or that Jackson is just displaying the natural progression that most second-year players show. I lean heavily toward the latter.
- Durant raved about Jeremy Lamb today. Said he was going to be a big-time contributor next year.
- Apparently, the infamous Westbrook clip from Utah — “Y’all *** trippin’ — was a product of his combined frustration at the previous question in addition to the actual question that prompted that response. That’s what he told me after the game tonight. I don’t remember the previous question.
- Up next. Portland on Sunday.
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