Powerful Pregame Moment Backed up By Strong Late-Game Effort

Nick Gallo

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Game Recap: Thunder 102, Magic 94

During a pregame ceremony, the Thunder presented personalized versions of this season’s Oklahoma City Memorial-inspired jerseys to family members of the 168 people who were killed during the April 19, 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. After the powerful, emotional display, the Thunder went out onto the court and made the hometown fans proud with a gritty victory, clinched in the final minutes.

Game Flow

The Thunder’s offense flowed from the early stages, with slick ball movement, constant motion and a high tempo in the halfcourt, putting Orlando Magic defenders in binds. Using misdirection, dribble handoffs, baseline drives and quick give and go’s, the Thunder played randomly, got a step ahead of the defense and put the ball in the hoop.

The Thunder first went ahead on an 8-0 run midway through the first quarter, fueled by a Steven Adams three-point play as the big Kiwi re-entered the lineup after missing a pair of games with a knee injury. When a defender went underneath a screen, rookie Darius Bazley made him pay with a three-pointer, then Dennis Schröder turned defenders’ heads with a baseline drive to hit an open shooter.

Spanning the quarter break however was a 15-3 Magic run, as the massive front line of Orlando racked up free throws (31 attempts in the game) and putbacks off missed shots. (16 offense rebounds for 16 second chance points). The Thunder’s initial defense was good for most of the shot clock, but late bailout fouls and problems cleaning the backboard kept Orlando in this one through the second and third quarters.

Second-year guard Hamidou Diallo curled around a screen by Adams so tightly he looked like a running back slicing through the A-gap before dishing a pass to his rolling big for a score plus the foul. Diallo’s former Kentucky teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was also sensational, racking up 10 second quarter points by attacking into the paint, baiting defenders with fancy dribbling displays and precise shooting – all resulting in 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

The offense bogged down in the third quarter, however, and Orlando kept making a game of it. On back-to-back plays though, the Thunder used intentional, persistent ball movement to get good shots, both stemming from extra passes from the corner back up the sideline towards the wing where Terrance Ferguson buried a three-pointer and Chris Paul attacked the lane with ease.

“We keep talking about how we’re getting off to slow starts in the third quarter or what not,” said Paul. “We get a little stagnant here and there, but we picked it back up, got the moving and so that’s the good thing.”

“We just went back to the basics and the plays that we know that the ball was going to go from side to side, and all the guards were doing a great job going to the paint and kicking it out to the shooters,” added forward Danilo Gallinari.

After that sequence though, it was a defensive slugfest. The Thunder forced Orlando into 10-straight misses from the field yet still couldn’t hold onto the lead. Suddenly the game was tied at 83, and the Thunder was reeling. Bazley knocked down his second three of the night from the right wing, and the Thunder maintained its lead the rest of the way.

Decisive Moments

Even after Bazley’s three, the Thunder had tons of work to do to seal a second-straight home victory. Orlando pulled back to within one at 88-87, but the Thunder stayed committed to their ball movement and downhill attacking style. After moving the defense just enough, Schröder attacked baseline and hit Gilgeous-Alexander in the corner for one of his 3 three-pointers in the game, unleashing a knowing roar from the crowd.

At the 2:50 mark, over 90 seconds later, the score hadn’t moved, leaving things still shakily in the balance. Adams had the ball at the elbow, and Danilo Gallinari flashed from the corner in a “get action” to snag the ball from his center. Gallinari’s quickness helped him get a step on his defender and forced Adams’ man to take a step in the wrong direction. That’s all the Italian forward needed as he dropped off a pass to Adams for a monster slam.

“You’re trying to exploit them if there’s one mistake. That’s what movement does,” said Adams. Just make them play behind the ball.”

Less than a minute later, chaos ensued. Gallinari got bowled over while passing the ball and lost his shoe in the process, but in the commotion, Paul got free and buried a jumper to make it 95-87 with 2:09 to go. On the way back down court, Gallinari picked up his lost shoe and carried it with him, bumping bodies with Magic players. He kept his hands up – one of which still held his shoe – to disrupt a shot attempt and prevent an Orlando offensive rebound.

“(Magic center Nikola) Vučević was trying to get the rebound. He’s taller than me, but if I had the shoe in my hand, I figured I’m a little taller than him, so I tipped it out,” Gallinari grinned.

As the veteran forward plopped down on the floor to put his shoe back on and lace it up, the entire Thunder team rushed around him to congratulate him on his hustle regardless of the circumstances.

“The basketball IQ of our team was great because most people would say ‘yeah take a foul’,” Paul noted. “They were in the bonus, so even though he had his shoe off if we took a foul they would’ve been shooting free throws. It was smarter for everybody on the team to just try and get a stop and we did.”

Play of the Game

In the first quarter, Gilgeous-Alexander dazzled with a nifty stutter-step then a spin in the lane and a between-the-legs dribble to shake his man. The lefty layup made it 26-15 with 4:15 to go, matching the Thunder’s largest lead of the game.

Stat of the Night

39 The Thunder’s defense was the better one tonight in a clash of two of the best units in the league so far this year. For the game, the Magic shot just 39 percent from the field including a miserable 3-for-22 (13.6 percent) on three-pointers. Orlando also turned the ball over 14 times compared to just 15 assists and shot under 50 percent in the paint.

Quotes of the Night

Danilo Gallinari “I think we’re getting better minute by minute, game by game. We are on the right path. We’re improving every time and doing it for 48 minutes, and we did it very well tonight throughout the whole game.” –forward Danilo Gallinari

“We were talking about it after the game; we are sort of figuring it out. Finding some sets that we like to go to. The biggest thing is coach said we held them 15 points in the fourth quarter.”
-point guard Chris Paul

Looking Ahead

The Thunder (3-4) will practice on Wednesday before taking off for San Antonio, where it will play the Spurs on Thursday night for a quick one-game road trip.


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