Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Don’t distress, Magic fans. For the first time in a while, Orlando looked really good. Not good as in “winning games,” but good as in moving the ball, playing with confidence, and playing hard.
The Magic came out with a ton of energy, and put the clamps down on defense. Russell Westbrook was able to get his shots to go, but the Magic looked crafty in places where they usually don’t. I look back to plays like J.J. Redick sneaking in to force a turnover in the backcourt, Chris Duhon getting Durant in the air and finishing at the rim, and Jameer Nelson stepping into a three after Westbrook cheated a pass and missed.
The big word that defines all of this behavior is swagger. Everyone from Dwight Howard to Earl Clark played this game like they should have won it. Howards deep hook shot was working, so he continued to go to it. Jameer’s aggression was creating opportunity, so he kept doing it. Ryan’s shot was falling, so he shot.
The turning point in the game was the third quarter. Dwight Howard went nuts after a quiet first half and simply could not be stopped against a team who was supposed to have two guys who could keep him in check. With a lead, Orlando had the luxury of being able to pump the ball into Dwight over and over again. When it wasn’t there, he kicked, but for the most part his post game was available, and he made the OKC bigs pay, using the glass and demonstrating a ridiculous hook shot.
Most impressively, the Magic found success with their second line. Between Redick’s defense, Duhon’s ability to protect the ball, and the overall patience, Orlando was able to not only protect the lead, but extend it.
The most telling part of the night was the fact that Orlando had five different players in double-digits close to the beginning of the fourth quarter. They shared the ball well, and relied on the team to win the game. Put differently, guys picked their spots. No, they knew their spots, and executed perfectly. It was Dwight’s offense and every guy on the team not named Dwight that put himself in the best possible position to optimize.
No question the final and most important test for the Magic came in the fourth quarter as Westbrook and Durant started to come on. Once they started scoring, OKC tightened up a bit, and Orlando found themselves only up four with just six minutes remaining in the game.
Kevin Durant was simply too much, though, down the stretch. He hit some huge shots including a three-pointer in Hedo’s face and a one-legged fadeaway that we can just call the dagger.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Kevin Durant. A quiet start ended with an enormous second half for Durant, who hit a back-breaking 3 and a one-legged fadeaway en route to 38 points in a vintage OKC comeback. He’s the new closer. Forget what you heard about Kobe Bryant.
With just less than six minutes left in the game, OKC cut the lead to four. Either Orlando would respond or it wouldn’t. The Magic didn’t, but Durant did, scoring 14 of the Thunder’s final 23 points.
Russell Westbrook. He came out scorching with 10 assists and 29 points, including 17 in the first half. His effort gave way to what would eventually be KD o’clock.