Thunder Buckles Down in Third, Boosting Balanced OKC Attack – OKC 132, ORL 122
Steven Adams was falling down and losing control. So was the Thunder. Down by a dozen at home in the third quarter, the Thunder needed a shot of brilliance to kickstart a comeback. In a moment of quick thinking, Russell Westbrook called a timeout, giving his team a chance to regroup in the huddle, preventing an Adams turnover.
The heads-up timeout by the Thunder captain may not have generated a conscious response or a Knute Rockne-style speech on the sideline, but nonetheless there was a physical reaction on the court to overturn a poor defensive start. Over the ensuing 12 minutes precisely, the Thunder outscored the Orlando Magic 44-18 to turn at 12-point deficit into a 14-point lead. Eventually, the end result was a 132-122 victory to send the Thunder to 34-19 on the season.
“We defended, got stops, rebounded, played quicker than we did in the first half,” Westbrook said.
“We just scrambled. Got to their shooters and scrambled out,” added George. “We kept getting stops and turning that into offense. We just fueled off that."
The burst featured some wonderful playmaking by Westbrook, with one of the defining moments coming in a spur of the moment outlet pass from the All-Star point guard to Adams. The center was streaking up the sideline on a leak out, and Westbrook fired up ahead, in an inversion of the typical center to guard pitch ahead. It was a bang-bang play, but the 7-footer snagged the ball just before an Orlando player was able to tip it then barreled to the rim for a fast break slam. Plant an NBA fan from any other decade than this in the stands for that play and they would think they were watching a different sport.
Jerami Grant was active and aggressive on both ends of the floor and the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd’s murmuring approval swelled to a crescendo of boisterous applause as his contributions coincided with the Thunder’s big run. Grant swatted a Nikola Vucevic dunk attempt at the rim and finished a pair of shots around the rim to put the Thunder over the top to re-take the lead for the first time since late in the first quarter. As one of 7 Thunder players in double figures, Grant scored 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting with buckets at every level of the defense.
“He’s improved in all aspects of his game and it showed tonight,” said Westbrook.
“(Grant) is underrated,” added guard Dennis Schröder. “Not many four men [are] doing what he does and yeah, he’s underrated for sure and he’s special.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 6, 2019
The Magic never got back in front the rest of the way, as a steady and balanced Thunder offensive attack was paired with a stouter defensive effort to keep Oklahoma City in the driver’s seat. In the third quarter, the Magic shot just 1-of-10 from three-point range after knocking down 7-of-15 triples in the first half. The Thunder did a much better job of getting over screens, helping on the back side and then getting out to contest jumpers in the quarter.
“Our guys in the second half really got back to playing how we need to play defensively,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan.
On the flip side, the Thunder finally started to finish around the rim, and perhaps the two shooting figures (Orlando’s threes and Oklahoma City’s two’s) were linked. In the first half the Thunder went just 13-of-30 in the paint, for an abysmal 43 percent in comparison to a season average of 55 percent. In the second half, thanks to 9 forced turnovers and holding Orlando to just 35.6 percent shooting overall, the Thunder flipped its paint shooting completely, going 16-of-23 (69.5 percent) in the lane.
Dennis Schröder, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half continually slinked into the lane with some hesitation dribbles and blowby attacks. George kept attacking the deep paint and picked up 11 of his 16 total free throw attempts after halftime. Despite not having his best shooting night of the season, George was still outrageously productive as he earned MVP chants from the home crowd: 39 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.
Yet it was Westbrook once again whose energy, effort, leadership and most importantly, playmaking that galvanized the Thunder in this one. For the fourth time this season and the seventh time in his career, Westbrook put together a 15-15-15 game, completing his seventh-straight triple-double for his 20th of the season and 124th of his career with a 16-point, 15-rebound, 16-assist performance. As Westbrook goes, so does the Thunder, it seems.
“The assists and the rebounding without question impact and effect our team in a very positive way,” noted Donovan.
“(Westbrook) is the reason we have had the highest (scoring) months in Thunder history,” George said. “I cannot say enough for the credit he deserves for our offense being at the level it is at.”