Magic's Furious Fourth-Quarter Rally Falls Short in OKC

By John Denton
Dec. 15, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Orlando Magic did everything in their power to hang with the powerful Oklahoma Thunder on Sunday night, relentlessly attacking the rim, repeatedly diving for loose balls and playing all game with tremendous resolve.

But each time there was a bit of slippage or a shooting drought, a Thunder team that simply doesn’t lose right now before its fanatical fan base would surge ahead of a Magic squad that was expending everything that it had.

Orlando gamely hung tough all night, withstanding early onslaughts from superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Magic did hit a couple of rough spots in the second half, but they gamely fought to the end before coming up just short in a 101-98 loss to Oklahoma City.

``We never gave up. We thought as a team that we could win that game the whole game and for us that’s important,’’ said Magic forward Tobias Harris’ whose final heave was ruled to have happened after the buzzer. ``That’s a right step in the right direction for us as a team.’’

Orlando remarkably used a 10-0 run late in the game to get within two points of the Thunder with 22 seconds to play. Durant hit a free throw with 13 seconds to go to put the Thunder up by three, but Orlando couldn’t convert in the final seconds.

Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who buried his second 3-pointer of the season on Tuesday in Charlotte, ended up with the ball when Orlando couldn’t get it to Tobias Harris or Arron Afflalo and his heave was well short. Harris had a heave from 25 feet go long, but refs ruled it left his hands after the buzzer.

A sellout crowd of 18,203 at noisy Energy Solutions Arena saw the Thunder (19-4) improve to 13-0 at home this season. The Magic (7-17) briefly put a scare into the home crowd with spirited runs in the second and fourth quarters, but they simply couldn’t keep pace with one of the NBA’s most potent offenses.

The Thunder were so locked in that even their mascot, Rumble, banked in a half-court shot that he/she threw over his/her shoulders with 5:42 left in the game.

Orlando, losers of its last two games, got 25 points and two 3-pointers from Afflalo, a solid double-double from Nikola Vucevic (13 points and 16 rebounds) and five starters in double figures. But it was hardly enough on this night against an Oklahoma City team with the second-best record in the rugged Western Conference. Orlando made just seven of 20 shots (35 percent) in the third period to undue much of their solid first-half play.

Davis chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds, while rookie Victor Oladipo added 15 points and four rebounds. Jameer Nelson scored 13 points and handed out eight assists.

Durant, who averaged 25.5 points in two defeats of the Magic last season, had 28 more points on an efficient 11 of 18 shooting. Westbrook’s shot selection was again highly questionable, but he jump-started his offense (20 points) with two steals and 12 assists.

Not far removed from a six-game, 12-day road trip after playing one game at the Amway Center, Orlando plays in Chicago on Monday night. It will be team’s 14th day on the road in the past 16 days. The Magic will get some home-cooking throughout the Christmas holiday when they begin a six-game home stand Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz.

Magic small forward Maurice Harkless, who had success against OKC a year ago, was back in the rotation Sunday night after not playing on Friday against Cleveland. Harkless, still the Magic’s youngest player at 20 years old, guarded Durant well and had 10 steals in two games against the Thunder last season.

Orlando trailed 56-49 at intermission, but it was a major improvement over last March when the Magic surrendered 73 points in the first half in Oklahoma City. In that game nine months ago, the Magic went down by as much as 27 points before rallying to briefly take the lead, only to lose in the final two minutes.

This time around, the Magic led much of the first quarter and hung tough in the second quarter. And when Orlando came out of a time and ripped off nine straight points – keyed by a Harkless 3-pointer and a Tobias Harris put-back hook shot – to tie the game at 45-all.

Nelson and Vucevic carried the Magic offense in the early going. Vucevic had a double-double by halftime, pounding the Thunder inside for 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first two quarters. Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis helped free up some space for Vucevic by drawing three first-half fouls on Thunder shot-blocker Serge Ibaka.

Nelson was locked in and orchestrated the Magic offense beautifully in the early going. He drilled a 3-pointer over Kendrick Perkins in the final seconds of the second quarter and he also had four assists in the opening half.

Oladipo opened the game alongside of Nelson in the backcourt and brought the ball up the floor on the game’s first possession. However, his pass was picked off by Westbrook, resulting in a dunk for the Thunder. It was a sign of trouble ahead as Oladipo turned the ball over four times in the first half.

But the prized No. 2 pick in last June’s NBA Draft did redeem himself with six points early on, four of them coming when he got to the free throw line six times early on with several hard drives to the rim.