Revertigo: Thunder Lets Go in 2nd Half – OKC 108, ORL 121
ORLANDO – Ten of the previous 12 matchups between the Thunder and Orlando Magic had been decided by 8 points or less. The last four clashes were decided by just 16 points, including two overtime games. About 30 minutes into this battle, it looked like these two teams were headed for another last-minute finish.
Then, a monstrous Magic explosion and Thunder implosion resulted in a 26-3 run by Orlando in less than nine minutes spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter. It was a heavy, devastating blow that put the Thunder down by as many as 22, and ultimately resulted in a 121-108 road loss.
“As a team we have to know what is working for us and staying steady and staying with it,” forward Paul George said of the loss. “We’re great when we’re locked into our system. That’s where we have to be. We have to find that level of play every possession and for 48 minutes.”
The problems started early for the Thunder when its normally trusty defense didn’t get stops at its normal rate. Magic perimeter players were driving to the basket without much resistance at the rim, particularly Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon. The latter party was particularly effective, getting to the free throw line nine times in the first half alone. That offensive force allowed Orlando to get into a rhythm, and to shooting 57.4 percent over the opening 24 minutes while racking up 59 points.
The Thunder’s offense had mostly kept pace though played from behind in the first half. It stayed competitive because of ball and player movement throughout entire possessions. Russell Westbrook was setting dummy screens for Paul George to start actions and plays were finishing with easy cutting dunks by Andre Roberson and Jerami Grant.
Those two role players combined for 17 points in the first half in part because of 14 Thunder assists, but only scored four combined over the final two periods. In the third quarter, the Thunder’s offense ground to a halt and only registered two assists. Some of it was a reversion to bad habits in terms of ball and player movement.
“It’s not my rules, it’s the game of basketball’s rules. There are certain things you have to do as it relates to the game of basketball,” Donovan said. “The game of basketball is like the house in gambling. You may be able to gamble a little bit here or there, and come out on top on a particular day, but over the long haul, those habits you have to establish. Because the game always wins out in the end, over a long period of time.”
“We can’t do it part of the time. We have to do it the whole time,” Donovan added. “The group has been great, their attitude has been good and they’ve worked really hard but we have to build those habits for a lengthy period of time.”
“Coach is definitely right,” Westbrook affirmed. “It’s something that all of us, individually, have to figure out what that is to be able to not fall back to it.”
Some credit must go to the Magic, who denied the swing-swing passes from the strongside to the weakside and back that had created driving lanes in the first half.
“We were doing a great job of moving it from one side and swinging it to the other. They started denying that reversal pass, and then it allowed them to just lock in and load up on that pick and roll,” George explained. “We weren’t getting the same looks we were getting in the first half.”
That offensive malaise led to a stretch where the Thunder made just 1-of-18 field goal attempts, so what was a 77-74 Thunder lead with 5:13 to go in the third quarter was a 105-82 deficit with just under nine minutes to go in regulation. The Thunder’s unproductive offense made the defensive job much tougher, and that’s when Gordon and Evan Fournier got hot from the perimeter, and Orlando blasted off.
Westbrook and his teammates scrapped and fought down the stretch, even cutting the lead to 10 points with 4:00 to go in the contest. The relentless Thunder point guard rattled off three straight three-pointers, and finished 7-for-10 from behind the arc on the night on his way to 37 points. But just when the Thunder thought it might pull off yet another miracle comeback in Orlando and generate another buzzer-beating finish against the Magic, it’s opposing knocked down some easy looks that kept the charge at bay for good.
After the game Westbrook knelt over and then sat down on the Thunder bench, clearly upset about the loss. When he spoke to reporters, he explained that his competitiveness and his desire to win is what drives him, and that it’s his responsibility as the leader of the Thunder to help remedy the problems the team is going through right now.
“That’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re ready to play on both sides of the ball and to get us out of this funk,” Westbrook stated. “We have to lock in. That starts with me and I take ownership in everything that is going on because I’ve been here. I know the standards that we set here in Oklahoma City. I have to set an example. It starts with me and we’re going to turn this thing around.”
Although his teammates all look up to him as the leader of the group, veterans like Anthony explained that this team is sticking together on and off the court, and owns the results as a team.
“We’re in this together. We’re committed to this together and we win together and lose together,” Anthony said. “I know that for a fact we’ll get it together.”
By the Numbers
3 – Assists after halftime for the Thunder, after having 14 in the first half
22-2 – The Thunder’s advantage in second chance points due to a 21-2 edge in offensive rebounds and 20 extra field goal attempts
59.2 – Shooting percentage for the Magic on the night, including a 26-for-33 mark in the paint
The Last Word
“This game is long gone. I’ll take the blame for this one and the funk that we’re in. It’s my responsibility to make sure we get back on the right page and that starts tonight moving forward to the next game and make sure we turn this thing around. It’s early in the season and we’re figuring things out but we have to make sure we’re playing the right basketball.” – point guard Russell Westbrook