Bench Bolsters Thunder Victory – OKC 112, ORL 105

During pregame warmups, Russell Westbrook called over reserve forward Patrick Patterson and gave him a very straight forward message: “Shoot the ball”. It was as much an instillation of confidence as it was a directive. Turns out it was an effective message not just for the Thunder stretch forward, but the entire reserve unit.

Patterson had a perfect shooting night, going 4-for-4 from the field, 2-for-2 from the three-point line and hit his lone free throw attempt on his way to 11 points as the Thunder’s bench racked up 48 total points to bolster a 112-105 home victory over the Orlando Magic.

“We’re going to need everybody down the stretch,” Westbrook explained. “Part of my job is to make sure that everybody is comfortable, their confidence stays high, and that’s what I try to do.”

“Especially in the huddle. Definitely a lot in practice. Outside of the facility. And outside of the arena. So, I might as well shoot it,” Patterson deadpanned when asked about Westbrook’s verbal encouragement.

It wasn’t a straightforward win for the Thunder, who had to battle through a challenging first quarter when the Magic ripped off 6 three-pointers on its way to 38 points. Some loose Thunder defense on pick-and-pops between DJ Augustin and Nikola Vucevic led to open looks from the perimeter, and the Thunder was immediately on its heels from the outset.

It was a long climb for the ensuing two quarters as the Thunder clawed its way back into the game. First, Head Coach Billy Donovan made a defensive adjustment to trap the ball to prevent those easy kick back passes to Vucevic, which required some extra built-in help on the backside of the defense.

“We had to help Steve-o (Adams) out,” Patterson explained. “Whether it was someone on the perimeter trying to bump him out earlier with stopping the ball or the guards did a great job of fighting over the screen and allowing Steve-o an opportunity to get back. And Steve-o stopped the ball a lot earlier which allowed him more time to get back to Vucevic.”

“We were able to take care of the roll, which was causing a lot of confusion, causing a lot of rotation,” George said. “Once we took care of that, we were able to guard and defend our own.”

Behind a monstrous one-handed block by Alex Abrines as he came over for a rotation, plus a three-pointer and a backdoor lob dunk for the Spaniard, the Thunder got back to an even keel.

“I think I’m getting better. I’m working a little bit more extra on that,” Abrines said of his defense. “We need a couple guys to step up on defense. I’m one of those guys.”

After pulling to within one point at 62-61 at halftime, the Thunder outscored the Magic 23-15 in the third quarter behind an outstanding defensive performance. Despite turning the ball over 8 times in the period, the Thunder allowed just 2 fast break points to Orlando, and ripped off a 9-0 run to end the quarter and take control of the game. The burst started with two free throws by Jerami Grant, who is managing to serve as the backup center while also seeing other minutes as a small forward in crucial portions of the game.

“JG is very versatile. He does so much for this team,” forward Paul George said. “It’s great, we can plug him in at multiple positions and we never lose a beat.”

After Grant’s shots at the charity stripe, George made a steal and kicked it over the top to rookie Terrance Ferguson, who grabbed the pass off the bounce in front of him, while on the way up towards the rim, and slammed it home. Next Raymond Felton banged home a three-pointer off beautifully executed ball movement, and George attacked the rim for a putback of his own miss through contact. It was a bulldog play to send the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into a frenzy.

“As long as I can keep that mindset of staying in attack mode, shots will fall,” George explained. “We’re going to keep attacking. We’re going to keep being aggressive.”

Despite building a 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Thunder still needed to hang on down the stretch. Orlando pulled back to within four points with 1:29 remaining, but a corner three-pointer for George off of Russell Westbrook’s 11th assist of the night. Oklahoma City’s floor general came up two points shy of a triple-double on the night, but that was far from his mind. He was simply grateful for another Thunder victory.

“I’m just blessed to be able to play, have fun and win,” Westbrook chimed.

Highlights: Thunder vs. Magic

By the Numbers

5-for-21 – Shooting numbers the Thunder held the Magic to in the third quarter

26 – Points for Paul George, who shot 9-for-20 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds, dished three assists and made a steal

48 – Bench points for the Thunder as four different reserves scored in double figures on the night for just the third time in OKC history

The Last Word

“This is the way we have to perform for the rest of the year and throughout the postseason. That’s something that we talked about. We talked about it with Coach, we talked about it amongst ourselves... Everybody has a role. We have to continue to play the way we played tonight.” – guard Raymond Felton