The smallest player on the court was having his way, doing whatever he wanted, whenever his team needed it.
Until Serge Ibaka put a stop to it.
Jameer Nelson, the generously-listed 6-foot Orlando Magic point guard, was leading a furious second-half rally when Ibaka stepped up and provided the perfect spark a listless Thunder team needed to hang on for a 117-104 victory on Friday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
As Nelson knifed his way into the teeth of the Thunder's defense, looking to cut a one-time 27-point deficit to three, Ibaka stepped up and swatted Nelson's layup attempt. The rejection ignited the crowd and pumped life into the Thunder as Thabo Sefolosha recovered the ricochet.
Sefolosha squirted the other way with a streaking Kevin Durant filling the lane. A look-away, cross court pass from Sefolosha to Durant ended in a reverse layup and was the start of a 13-5 run on which the Thunder closed the game.
The victory, however, was overshadowed by the Thunder's inconsistency, a talking point coach Scott Brooks made sure to address after the game.
“Our focus was inconsistent throughout the game,” Brooks said. “We pride ourselves on being more focused throughout the game and every possession but that wasn't the case tonight. It's something that we have to get better with … We missed layups. We missed free throws. Our focus wasn't there throughout the game.”
Oklahoma City got away with it against an Orlando squad that fell to 18-48, the second worst record in basketball.
But the Thunder committed 11 of its 18 turnovers in the second half, missed 14 of 43 free throws and allowed 58 points in the middle quarters. Orlando matched the Thunder with 56 points in the paint and sat on 84 points through three quarters despite coming in averaging just 94.2 points.
“We expect to play well and we expect to play consistent,” Brooks said. “And going into the next game we're going to want better consistency.”
Durant finished with a team-high 26 points, Russell Westbrook scored 23 with six rebounds and six assists and Ibaka added 20 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. Kevin Martin chipped in 15 points off the bench, and Kendrick Perkins grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds. OKC shot 55.3 percent.
The Thunder held a 39-26 lead after the first quarter, a period in which OKC made 15 of 21 shots (71.4 percent) and closed the frame on a 21-7 run. The 39 points were the most the Thunder has scored in a quarter this season.
OKC had nine of its 21 assists in the first period, eight coming on the team's first 10 makes. Five different Thunder players had an assist in the quarter, with Westbrook leading the way with four.
An all-reserve lineup then started the second quarter on an 18-4 run, blowing open the game and making it appear as if the Magic would be all but put out of its misery midway through the period.
Martin scored all six of his second-quarter points in succession to give the Thunder a 57-30 lead with 7:42 left in the half. He hit a turnaround jump shot, sneaked behind the defense for an alley-oop from Reggie Jackson and converted a pair of foul shots. Jackson, Nick Collison and Perry Jones III scored four points apiece in the period and Derek Fisher added two.
At halftime, Martin was one of four Thunder players in double figure scoring. Ibaka scored 10, Durant had 12 points and Westbrook had 14 points with three rebounds and four assists.
With a 73-56 halftime lead, the Thunder set a season high for its most points in any half. The Thunder's record for points in a half is 74, set March 24, 2010, against Houston.
“You're not going to be able to score many more points than that at the half,” Brooks said. “But I thought that our second unit did a good job of extending that lead and building a 27-point lead. But then we just didn't play with the type of focus that we needed.”
Orlando hung around in the second half, doing all it could to keep things from getting ugly. That's when it nearly turned that way for the Thunder.
Trailing 83-61 with 7:05 remaining in the third quarter, the Magic used a 21-6 spurt — which included an 11-1 run — to pull within seven with 1:03 left in the period.
But Durant answered with a 3-pointer off a feed from Westbrook, and after a Tobias Harris jumper, Westbrook drilled another 3 to bump the Thunder's lead back to 11 entering the fourth quarter.
Orlando still wouldn't go away.
The Magic went on an 11-2 run in a four-minute span to cut a 13-point deficit to four. Ibaka split a pair of foul shots at one end and then provided the most pivotal play of the night against Nelson at the other.
Asked if the blown lead was disappointing, Westbrook, as always, was short and to the point.
“We won,” he said.