Pure Joy as Thunder Dashes Past Magic – OKC 126, ORL 117

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

ORLANDO – Out of bounds on the baseline after making a ridiculous floater, Paul George popped up off the floor, turned to a road crowd that had been chanting “MVP” at him just minutes before and let out a loud roar to go with a wide smile. Following an outrageous Russell Westbrook euro-step layup, Raymond Felton and Hamidou Diallo were hollering on the bench while Dennis Schröder covered his mouth because the move was so sick.

There was a party on the Thunder sideline tonight, and it all sparked from what Thunder players were doing on the floor. When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter though, the celebration spilled onto the floor. Already with 15 fourth quarter points on his stat sheet after a blistering hot scoring stretch, Schröder raced down the left sideline. With the ball still on it’s way to him in the air, every Thunder player knew what was coming next. Schröder launched the three, buried it and posed in a crouch to finish his follow through.

Watch: Game Highlights

As the Orlando Magic called timeout, Westbrook and George joined him down there, hyping up the reserve point guard who had just propelled the Thunder to a 126-117 victory.

“We had a lot of fun. That is what it really comes down to,” said George. “Enjoy the process.  Just have fun and we did that tonight.”

“It is the best part about this game,” Westbrook added. “Have fun and compete at a high level.  When we start the game out we always tell the guys to have fun because this opportunity don’t come often.”

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Euro-step. At Brodie speeds.

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Schröder’s 18-point fourth quarter explosion was just a final wave of a Thunder offensive onslaught that began right at the outset of the game. Despite falling behind 12-2 right away, the Thunder got back into it with 7-0 and 8-0 bursts in the first and second quarters, with Westbrook launching himself headlong downhill for coast to coast driving layups and drop off passes for Nerlens Noel.

After 14 points in the first quarter, George was equally aggressive in the second period, utilizing physical drives to the deep paint to counter his mid-range jumpers and a pair of three-point makes. By halftime, George had already racked up an incredible 31 points.

Noel started along with Diallo in place of Steven Adams (ankle sprain) and Terrance Ferguson (back spasms), who were late scratches from the lineup. Between Noel’s 5 blocked shots and Diallo’s productive 17 minutes of action, the Thunder also got an emotional boost with the return of Alex Abrines, who played six minutes and hit a three-pointer in the first half, returning to the lineup after dealing with a personal matter and missing 17 games.

“The message is the next guy be ready. Guys in this locker room work hard every day,” Westbrook explained. “(They) work on their game and understand their number could be called any night. They need to step up. Guys stepped up tonight and covered for each other and we got the win.”

“Credit to Coach and credit to the guys that come in fill those roles,” George added. “We just have to be ready.  You never know when your number is going to be called.  You never know when it is time to go and a night like tonight you never know when you are going to need somebody to elevate the team.”

While the Thunder’s offense hummed right along, its defense had some problems with Orlando. As Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan warned at shootaround on Tuesday morning, the Magic want to play up tempo and take a high volume of three-point shots, despite what the season-long pace of play numbers suggest. That’s exactly what happened in the third quarter, when Orlando went on a 28-5 run to erase a 15-point Thunder lead and create an eventual 8-point lead towards the end of the third quarter. During that period alone, the Magic attempted 12 three-pointers and managed to snag 7 offensive rebounds.

“It was a really back and forth game,” Donovan noted. “But, I give our guys credit because the number of possessions. It’s going to be ebbs and flows. It’s going to be ups and downs. There’s going to be swings like that. And how well you handle those swings is the most important thing.”

The Thunder responded in the fourth, however, with what ended up being a 30-9 run that included the final possessions of the third. Spearheaded by Schröder’s 18 points, including 10 of the Thunder’s first 15 in the period, Donovan’s club responded to Orlando’s haymaker with one of its own.

“I just try be out there and try to stay aggressive and look for my shot and look for my open teammates and just make the right play,” said Schröder.

The lead ran up to 13 for the Thunder but Orlando cut it to 5 with just under four minutes to play and it was time for George and Westbrook to finish the deal. As part of a 37-point effort on 14-of-24 shooting, George scored on a cut to the rim after Noel secured an offensive rebound and hit him with a bounce pass, and then crossed up his man to score at the bucket and hit an elbow jumper.

On back-to-back possessions after that, Westbrook manipulated Orlando’s defense, got into the lane, drew an extra defender and found Noel for a pair of easy floaters. In complete control all night, Westbrook racked up 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 14 rebounds and 14 assists as a part of his fourth-straight triple-double, good for his 17th of the year and 121st of his career. The Thunder’s final flurry of 10 points sealed this one and extended the Thunder’s win streak to 6 with two more on the east coast remaining on this road trip.

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We see you Dennis.

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