In place of Darnell Mayberry’s traditional postgame nuggets…
Here are five observations from the Thunder’s 103-102 loss in Orlando:
1. Get back - The game shouldn’t have come down to that last play. OKC is a far superior team, with what seemed like an insurmountable 17-point lead and they blew it. Bad offense and worse defense in the second half. But since it did come down to that last play, it’s what will be examined. And it ain’t pretty for the Thunder. Pretty much a microcosm of the final 24 minutes. After missing a contested jumper, up one with six seconds left, Kevin Durant played spectator, Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson broke into a halfhearted jog, Serge Ibaka was just chillin’ and Tobias Harris burned them for it. Watch the play below. Harris starts under his own hoop and, on his way to a wild buzzer-beating dunk, passes four Thunder defenders. Inexcusable with the game on the line. In postgame, Scott Brooks called out his team and KD owned up to it. Click here for their quotes.
2. Stagnated offense - Feels weird to bash on the offense on a night Kevin Durant tied his career-high with 12 assists and Serge Ibaka was a point away from his career best. And Scott Brooks is partially right when he said this postgame: “We scored 102 points on the road and hit 10 threes. It’s not an offensive issue.” But in reality, the Magic comeback was a combination of things. The defense allowed Orlando back in it, but the late-game offensive execution sealed the Thunder’s fate. OKC scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, going 5-of-18 with five turnovers. And in the final three minutes, this is how OKC’s offensive possessions went:
-Reggie Jackson missed 25-footer
-Kevin Durant missed 25-footer
-Thabo Sefolosha made 23-footer
-Kevin Durant missed 25-footer
-Thabo Sefolsha charge/turnover
-Kevin Durant missed 17-footer
-Kevin Durant missed 19-footer
Lotta stagnation, lotta long jumpers, not a lotta points.
3. Cranked up D - The strange part about this game, from a Thunder perspective, is when the offense went cold down the stretch, the defense actually cranked it up and almost allowed them to escape. I was sitting right on the baseline under the Thunder’s hoop (see if you can find me on the video of the game-winner) with ESPN writer Michael Wallace, and we both noticed a clear change in defensive focus once the Magic took the lead. Scott Brooks went to a lineup of Durant, Jackson, Lamb, Ibaka and Sefolosha (holy wingspan) and they started swarming. In the final 5:47, after taking a 97-93 lead, Orlando went 2-of-13 shooting to close out the game. And that includes the game-winning dunk, which was the result of a frantic 3-on-1 break. In the half court, the Magic struggled to even get a shot up. OKC had four blocks in the final five minutes, caused a shot clock violation and a five-second violation. Tenacious defense. Come playoff-time, they’ll be a menace to score on if they can bottle up that kind of energy on the defensive end.
4. Bench problems - The key stretch in this game came at the start of the fourth quarter. OKC was up 88-80 entering the final 12 minutes and seemed to have the upcoming edge with both second-units on the floor. But the Thunder bench, which has been so good for most of this season, was severely outplayed over the next five minutes. Victor Oladipo provided the energy, E’Twaun Moore made some plays and Orlando went on a 13-2 run to take a three-point lead. During that time, the Thunder went 1-of-7 with four turnovers with primarily bench guys on the floor.
5. KD’s passing/Serge’s jumper - The offensive chemistry between Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka has grown at an exponential rate this past month. When Westbrook initially went out, the connection seemed a bit off. Now, with some games under their belt, it’s become an absolutely lethal two-man game. And it was that way again Friday night. Orlando had no answer. Durant’s ability to pass is a key reason Ibaka finished with 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting. And Ibaka’s ability to finish is a key reason Durant tied his career-high with 12 assists.
GIF proof (h/t @JDonSports)
TRAVEL GUIDE – Orlando: It took 23 years, but I’ve finally made it to Florida. First time I’ve been in the state. And because I arrived a day before the game, it gave me a great chance to check out the city. On Thursday night, I went over to Universal Studios — because if you’re in Orlando, why not? While there, I visited their big NBA store. By my unofficial count, there was more Thunder apparel than any other team (including a big Kevin Durant Skull Candy headphone kiosk). Pretty crazy and indicative of the far-reaching impact this franchise has created. Anyway, on Friday afternoon after shootaround, I drove over to check out the Citrus Bowl, but it turns out there wasn’t much Citrus Bowl to see. The stadium is undergoing full-scale renovation. Only the upper deck remains (image here). After that, I took the 25-minute drive over to UCF on the East side of Orlando. Beautiful campus. Lots of trees, gorgeous architecture, nice setting. Even got a chance to check out the football stadium, which houses the Fiesta Bowl Champs.
-Quick DYK: Did you know that UCF is the second-largest campus in the country by population? At 60,048, it’s just behind Arizona State (60,169). Kinda surprising.
-PSA: If you’re ever driving around Orlando (and maybe Florida as a whole), bring plenty of spare change. The amount of toll booths are unbelievable. There’s a different one every few miles. And you don’t even have to transfer freeways. I’m not sure what cost me more: Renting a car or paying all the tolls to get it around Orlando.
-The game atmosphere was pretty good, I thought. But from talking with the people who are typically at Magic games, it was probably the best all season. Friday night, MVP candidate in town, home team pulls off a wild upset with a crazy finish. Even if the fans aren’t in the game early (and they weren’t), once Orlando started the comeback, it got pretty rowdy. Also, fantastic arena. The second newest in the league behind Brooklyn. First-class from what I saw.
-Derek Fisher is 15-of-27 from three in the last seven games. Can’t ask for much more.
-Serge Ibaka’s jumper is borderline automatic from 12-18 feet right now.
-Orlando has won four straight home games and lost 12 straight road games.
-How about the minutes from PJ3 in the first half? Come in, splash a three from the corner, drop in a nice running fadeaway, play some solid defense and then take a quick seat back on the bench. Think the Magic, or 12 other Eastern Conference teams, wouldn’t love to play him 30 minutes a night?
-The Magic throwback pinstripe uniforms are my favorite in the NBA.
-After the emotional finish, as the Thunder walked off the court, Hasheem Thabeet and a clearly inebriated Magic fan were yelling at each other for a little bit. Thabeet had to be escorted to the locker room (it didn’t look like it was going to get physical, just seemed to be dragging on longer than anyone was comfortable). Kinda strange scene.
-The second largest cheer of the night (after the game-winner) came during an in-game timeout. Some Magic fan was competing in the 24-second make a layup, make a free throw, make a three contest. He hit the layup easy and then was struggling with the free throw. Finally, with about five seconds left, he drills the free throw and lumbers out to the 3-point line. As the announcer yells ‘One second on the clock’, this pretty unathletic-looking dude catches, turns and fires up a fadeaway three. Swish. The reaction was similar to the roar at Thunder home games when an OKC fan hits the halfcourt shot. And it was made even better by the post-shot reaction. The guy broke out into a backward jog, holding up the pose and soaking in the moment. Pretty great.
-Up next: Thunder vs Knicks in OKC on Sunday at noon. On ABC.