Denton: Magic-Thunder Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
January 13, 2011


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Unable to get many defensive stops of any kind Thursday night, the Orlando Magic finally looked like they had the Oklahoma City Thunder out of options as the final seconds of the shot clock ticked down late in the fourth period Thursday night.

But just before the horn sounded, the Thunder whipped the ball around the perimeter and found forward Jeff Green for a dagger of a 26-foot, fade-away 3-pointer.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy slumped his shoulders and shook his head in disgust at his team’s inability to offer up any defensive resistance at all against the young and dynamic Thunder. It was just one moment of frustration, but it perfectly summed up a night when the Magic had little luck go their way in Oklahoma City.

Because of Thursday’s defensive woes that led to a frustrating 125-124 loss in Oklahoma City, an Orlando team that was riding a franchise record-tying nine-game winning streak just two days ago now has a two-game losing skid to try and stomach. Magic guard Jason Richardson hit a 3-pointer at the final buzzer to draw the Magic within one point, but that only added to the dejection of the night.

``It’s just so tough when we finally play good defense and then Jeff Green makes a 3-pointer, throws it in really, with a guy in his face,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said glumly. ``

The Magic (25-14) certainly played well enough offensively to win the game, getting 39 points and 18 rebounds from franchise center Dwight Howard, 19 points from Richardson and a combined 33 points and seven 3-pointers from reserves J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson. But defensively, the Magic were repeatedly gashed by an Oklahoma City team that scored a season-high in points and shot a scorching 56.4 percent from the floor.

``There wasn’t one possession all night where I liked our defense,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy fumed. ``They made a lot of tough shots, but I can’t think of one stop we got that was a good one.’’

Superstar forward Kevin Durant was unstoppable all game with 36 points, none bigger than the pull-up jumper over Howard’s outstretched arm with eight seconds left to seal the game. But it was dazzling point guard Russell Westbrook who gave the Magic the most fits with the fourth triple-double of his career. He scored 32 points, carved up Orlando with 13 assists and added 10 rebounds.

``We just couldn’t ever get a stop when we needed it. They had so many different guys scoring and we just couldn’t ever get a handle on them,’’ Magic reserve guard Gilbert Arenas said. ``But we bounced back all night and kept fighting. I think the positive is that (Oklahoma City) needed a triple-double from one guy (Westbrook), another guy (Durant) shooting 80 percent and a guy like Jeff Green hitting shots and they still only beat us by one point.’’

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Thursday’s wonderfully entertaining game that had to make the TV execs at TNT thrilled:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • A night after missing two free throws with 11 seconds left in overtime that could have won the game in New Orleans, Howard bounced back with a monster game in a variety of ways.

    The consensus All-NBA pick made 11 of 19 shots and 17 of 20 free throw attempts in almost 43 minutes on the floor. He also battered the OKC frontline for 18 rebounds (eight offensive) and two blocked shots. But none of it mattered to the NBA’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year because the Magic’s didn’t show enough grit defensively.

    ``They hit a lot of tough shots and Jeff Green’s shot in the fourth quarter and Durant’s shot at the end of the game, you just can’t do anything about those,’’ Howard said. ``We shouldn’t ever be giving up 125 points. Man, that’s a lot of points.’’


  • As they did a night earlier in New Orleans, Richardson and Anderson again covered up a lot of the Magic’s blemishes with some torrid 3-point shooting. Richardson, who finished with 19 points, made four of Orlando’s 14 3-pointers, giving him nine makes on this roadtrip.

    Anderson stroked in three more 3-pointers and had 15 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes. But his night ended early when he re-aggravated a mid-foot injury that cost him almost three weeks back in December.

    Said Anderson: ``That’s the worst that I’ve tweaked it since I hurt it. I didn’t come down on it wrong; it was just pushing off on it. I’m hoping that it’s OK.’’


  • WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Van Gundy is irate about the Magic’s slow starts to games of late. The Magic trailed most of the first half in games against Houston and Dallas last week, and have done the same on the road this week against New Orleans and Oklahoma City.

    Van Gundy hinted that he will consider altering his rotations to try and add more life to the team at the start of games. Power forward Brandon Bass has endured a two-game funk of late, and one possible switch might be he and Anderson.

    ``Obviously our defense was bad, but we’re playing out of a hole every night and I don’t like that trend at all,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Whether we have to make changes in that (starting) lineup or what we’ve got to do something because we’re always in a hole and that’s not good at all.’’


  • The Magic’s pregame plan was to show a second man at Durant early in possessions to try and get the ball out of his hands. But nothing – not double-teams or the suggestion of them – could deter the Thunder superstar in the first half.

    Durant was unstoppable early in the game, making seven of eight shots and scoring 21 points in the first half. Durant buried contested jump shots, wide-open shots, got to the rim on backdoor cuts and basically did what he pleased from the perimeter.

    Orlando used Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Brandon Bass on Durant at various times throughout the game with very little success.

    And of course it was Durant getting the look on the most important play of the game. With OKC up 121-119, Durant took the ball on the wing, got a step on Turkoglu and lofted a jumper over the oncoming Howard with 8.1 seconds to play.

    Said Durant: ``We were clicking on all cylinders and moving the basketball. We found the open shots. Howard is a load down there, but I think we did a good job of helping our bigs out. It was a really good offensive showing for us.’’


  • FINAL OBSERVATIONS

  • Unlike a night earlier in New Orleans when the Magic played well defensively, they had no answers whatsoever against Oklahoma City’s dynamic offense.

    How dominant were the Thunder offensively? They had more points through three quarters (96) than the Hornets had in four quarters AND overtime (92) on Wednesday night in New Orleans.

    ``A couple of their guys got it going, but it was in part because we let them get to their strengths all night,’’ said Redick, who scored 18 points and made four of five 3-pointers in a nice bounce-back effort from Wednesday’s disappointment. ``Durant was phenomenal and so was Westbrook. When it was winning time, Durant hit a big bucket with Turk on his hip and Dwight closing on the floater. It’s a very skilled shot.’’


  • Howard’s ability to help off his man and block shots was hurt Thursday night by the effectiveness of Oklahoma City center Nenad Krstic to hit mid-range jump shots.

    Krstic, once a promising player before suffering a major knee injury, registered his first double-double of the season by routinely burning the Magic with jumpers when Howard went to help cut off dribble penetration. Krstic scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end of the floor.


  • Give referee Zach Zarba credit for making a heady call late in the third period.

    When Oklahoma City’s James Harden went to the floor on a 3-point try and the whistle blew most inside of Oklahoma City Arena assumed there would be a foul called on Orlando’s Jameer Nelson.

    But Harden clearly kicked out his leg on the play to initiate the contact and Zarba correctly called an offensive foul on the play. The play was reminiscent of what former Indiana Pacers great Reggie Miller used to do. Miller was sitting a few feet away from the Harden play, commentating for TNT as an analyst.

    John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.