OKLAHOMA CITY – Everything that came so easily to the Orlando Magic in a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring first half inexplicably disappeared on Monday night when they needed it most against the star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Magic opened the game with a season-best 36 points in the first quarter and they made 20 of their first 29 shots – with six made 3-pointers, to boot – while building a lead as large as 11 points.
However, much of that offense disappeared in the second half, and when the Magic continued to struggle mightily on the defensive end of the floor, it proved to be a lethal combination for Orlando.
Russell Westbrook fell a basket short of another triple-double against Orlando, but he was far from being the primary problem for the Magic in a 112-105 loss to Oklahoma City.
A Magic offense that shot 56 percent and cranked out 62 points in the first half grew sloppy and turnover prone in a second half where it shot just 42.4 percent and scored only 43 points. After making 20 of those first 29 shots (68.9 percent), the Magic connected on just 22 of 60 the rest of the way (36.6 percent).
``We got stagnant and stopped doing in the second half what we were doing in the first half,’’ said Magic guard Jonathon Simmons, who scored 19 points and smothered Westbrook most of the night. ``Those are great players over there (for OKC) and they capitalize on that. … That’s kind of been the theme of this year – teams hit us and we don’t hit back.’’
Orlando (18-42) was seemingly in great shape when it led 77-75 with 2:20 left in the third quarter. However, Oklahoma City (35-27) scored the final nine points of the quarter to grab the lead and control of the game.
``We still have that letdown where if we’re missing shots, we let down on defense and we’ve got to get out of that,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who had 18 points, but just five after the first 10 minutes of the game. ``That’s a sure-fire way to lose the game. We just slowed down, and I think our energy dropped.’’
Westbrook had eight points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. The eight points were his fewest in his 19 career games against the Magic. Coming into Monday, Westbrook had averaged 41.4 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.8 assists against the Magic over the past 2½ seasons. In those five games, Westbrook had racked up three triple-doubles and scoring nights of 57, 48, 41, 37 and 24 points. On Monday, he was held to single digits for the first time ever against the Magic and it still resulted in an Orlando loss.
On this night, it was an OKC bench that contributed 48 points and outplayed Orlando’s reserves. Magic reserves Shelvin Mack, Mario Hezonja, Bismack Biyombo and 10-day-signee Rashad Vaughn had trouble containing Raymond Felton (13 points), Alex Abrines (12 points) and Patrick Patterson (11 points), who combined to hit seven 3-point shots.
``Our guys competed, but their guys made shots and their second unit came in and played really well,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel lamented. ``They moved the basketball well and created open looks and they just outplayed us. That was probably the difference.’’
Orlando trailed by as much as 12 in the fourth quarter before mounting a rally. The Magic got within 105-101 before Nikola Vucevic was whistled for an offensive foul when referees said he pushed off with an elbow. OKC star Paul George, who finished with 26 points and eight rebounds, then nailed a 3-pointer to seal Orlando’s fate.
The Magic had one of their best stretches of basketball from Feb. 5-8 when they won three straight games. However, since then they have dropped six straight games – three in a row before the break for the NBA All-Star Game and all three after the week off.
``We’ve got to play big and everybody’s got to step up,’’ Gordon said, referring to how the Magic can get out of their losing streak. ``We’ve all got to come together so that it isn’t a snowball effect when we start sliding.’’
All five Orlando starters scored in double figures, led by Evan Fournier’s 19 points and five 3-pointers. His strong finish from 3-point range helped Orlando put the brief scare into the Thunder late in the game.
Gordon had 13 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, but just five the rest of the way. Vucevic, who opened the game with three straight 3-pointers, finished with 15, while D.J. Augustin chipped in 10 points.
Thunder center Steven Adams hurt the Magic with 16 points and eight rebounds. OKC hit 47.7 percent of its shots with 11 3-pointers, despite horrid shooting from Carmelo Anthony (four of 15, nine points).
In the first meeting of the season between the two teams, Orlando notched one of its best wins of the season. The Magic shot 59 percent from the floor, got 40 points from Gordon and toppled the Thunder 128-101 on Nov. 29 at the Amway Center.
Orlando will be off on Tuesday and then back in action on Wednesday when it hosts the Toronto Raptors – the only NBA team it has yet to face this season. The game is the start of a three-game home stand at the Amway Center.
The Magic started the third period slowly, but they still found themselves in good position late in the quarter. However, things came unraveled over the final 90 seconds after OKC scored the final nine points of the quarter to take an 84-77 lead into the fourth.
George had a steal that resulted in a Terrance Ferguson dunk and a put-back of his own miss during the run. Orlando actually did not have a field goal over the final 5:42 of the third period, causing it to lose the lead.
``That was very tough because we expect our second unit to come out and continue the pace that we had, but that’s the way the game goes sometimes,’’ Simmons said. ``But this game was on (the Thunder’s) home court and they took a bad loss (to Golden State on Saturday) and they were more ready to play than us in the second half.’’
Orlando came out dialed in and ready early in the game and its hot shooting carried throughout the first half as it took a 62-61 lead into intermission.
The Magic had a stellar start to the game, making 13 of their first 17 shots and six of seven 3-point shots. By the end of the first quarter, Orlando already had poured in 38 points – its most in a first quarter all season – by connecting on 70 percent of its shots.
Vucevic and Gordon, who were playing in their third games following long layoffs because of injuries, were dominant throughout the first 24 minutes. Gordon had two thunderous alley-oop dunks and a 3-pointer en route to a 13-point first quarter. Vucevic, meanwhile, drilled his first three 3-pointers of the game when Adams refused to come out on him. He, too, had 13 points by halftime by making five of seven shots.
However, the offensive success wouldn’t last in the second half, resulting in another head-scratching loss for the Magic.
``We’ve got to continue to move the ball and continue to be confident with our shots,’’ Gordon said. ``They’re going to go down and we’ve got to put a complete game together.’’
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