For 46 minutes, it went according to plan. For the final two, it almost turned into an unlikely nightmare.
“I don't know what would have happened if there was more time,” Reggie Jackson said after Oklahoma City's closer-than-expected 101-98 survival over Orlando at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “But fortunately for us, there wasn't.”
The Thunder entered as 13-point favorites, an 11-0 home team squared up with a rebuilt and reeling Magic squad that came in 2-10 on the road.
And both teams acted accordingly, with the Thunder building an early cushion, stretching its lead to 16 and putting it in cruise control late, up 100-88 with less than two minutes to go.
It was right about the time you'd expect both coaches to empty the bench. And it was right about the time this game was nearly flipped on its head.
After a trio of free throws, Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo had an easy dunk, Arron Afflalo made a contested three and Mo Harkless got a breakaway bucket off a sloppy Russell Westbrook turnover.
In between, the Thunder missed all four of its shots, allowing for a sudden 10-0 run in 96 seconds of game time.
“We missed shots,” Kendrick Perkins said. “We weren't trying to have the game like that. They just hit some big shots.”
Then, with the Thunder up by two with the ball, another unlikely twist hurt OKC. Kevin Durant, a career 88 percent shooter from the line, missed a huge free throw, opening the door for Orlando, down three with the ball.
But an overturned Serge Ibaka goaltend was sandwiched by a pair of errant Magic 3-pointers, sealing a dramatic victory that seemed routine just minutes earlier.
“It happens,” Perkins said of the letdown. “You just got to find a way to win … Sometimes you just got to take an ugly win.”
It's the type of victory the Thunder hasn't needed of late, winning 13 of the past 14, many of the blowout variety.
But it's one, over the course of a season, top teams find a way to pull out. And it serves as another reminder that regardless of competition, the Thunder's current 12-0 home record — the first in the NBA since the 2008 Cleveland Cavaliers — is as impressive as it sounds.
“Some tough breaks, but I'm glad we fought it out and got a win,” Durant said. “They made a couple of runs, but we were able to take the punch and keep pushing.”
And that was thanks to the comfortable lead the Thunder had already built, which was, once again, thanks in large part to its consistently dominant star.
In 37 minutes on Sunday, Durant finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. But it was his efficiency that continues to shine above all.
He was 11-of-18 shooting on the night and 2-of-3 from deep, improving his scorching December field goal percentages to nearly 55 percent overall and 52 percent from 3-point range.
“I'm one of those guys that want to make every shot,” Durant said. “I'm gonna go back and watch the shots I missed tonight and try to correct them.”
Correct them for the future, maybe. But on Sunday, Durant and the Thunder made just enough of them, thwarting off a frantic Magic comeback.