The Thunder once again showed its competitive spirit in the second night of a back-to-back. Against an undefeated Orlando team, the Thunder fought hard to keep the game close but would come up short in the final stanza.
Despite the Thunder fighting back to tie the game on three separate occasions, Orlando maintained a steady lead throughout four quarters. It wasn’t until the final quarter, however that the Magic amassed a lead larger than 10 points. A determined effort by the Thunder to get stops helped to withstand Orlando’s hot shooting early on and keep the game within arm’s reach.
“I thought we scrapped pretty hard tonight,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “I thought our competitiveness and engagement in the first three quarters especially was pretty good because there were a couple of times where the game could have gotten away from us and we made a play or got a stop.”
Part of the game plan for Orlando was to keep the ball out of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s hands by trapping on ball screens and sending double teams to him on the perimeter. Despite the effort, Gilgeous-Alexander finished the night with 23 points on 8-for-10 shooting and a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the arc. The Toronto native also dished out seven assists on the night. Driving to the lane, collapsing the defense and kicking the ball out to the perimeter gave his teammates quality looks from behind the arc.
“Shai played with great balance tonight,” said Daigneault. “I didn’t think he forced it and I thought he really chose his spots effectively. He got off quickly when there were two guys on him, and it put the rest of our guys in long closeouts. I thought those guys did a really good job of moving it and making quick decisions. That’s something for all of these players, playing against closeouts is a huge part of the foundation of your game. I thought a lot of guys did good things against closeouts tonight.”
Another major factor in the close game for the Thunder was the effort of Isaiah Roby who started the game for the Thunder with George Hill and Al Horford both out. The second-year forward scored nine of the Thunder’s first 22 points and finished with 19 points and seven rebounds – four of which were on the offensive end.
“All in all, he played a great game. He was ready,” said Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo. “That’s really big for you to start and go out there and being in all the reads and all the coverages that we’re in. That’s really tough for him, and he came out there and showed that he belonged. That’s the type of team that we are, the next man up and everybody just stay prepared. That’s really big for us, and I feel like he showed that tonight.”
Off the bench, Diallo and Muscala paced the Thunder’s second unit and combined for 27 points on the night. Coupled with Lu Dort’s three 3-pointers and 15 points, the Thunder fought hard to keep the game within single digits through the first three quarters.
OKC trailed by two points at the start of the fourth quarter. In the opening possession, Diallo curled around Muscala who held the ball in the high post. He dropped it off to Diallo under the rim for an easy, uncontested reverse layup. The bucket tied the ball game at 87 only moments into the final quarter.
Orlando answered on the following possession with an and-one layup by Khem Birch to regain a lead. From that point on, Orlando’s lead would only grow. A scoring lull from OKC left the door just wide enough for the Magic to capitalize offensively. Magic forward Dwayne Bacon kept the offense flowing for Orlando with eight of his 18 points coming in the fourth quarter- none of which came from the 3-point line.
Play of the Game
The highlight play of Roby’s 19 points came in the fourth quarter. Roby had the ball at the top of the key, guarded by Nikola Vučević. Roby gave a shot fake followed by a hard jab step that was enough to send Vučević stumbling backwards. With Vučević on the ground, the lane was wide open for Roby to accelerate and elevate for a monster one-handed slam.
Stat of the Night72
Orlando cashed in 72 points in the paint. Paced by the Magic backcourt and Dwayne Bacon with 18 points on 9-of-10 from the field, the Magic made its living attacking the lane and getting to the rim in the half court.
“We just got to keep watching film and try to find the right angles to take to protect the paint and not foul,” said Muscala. “They got a couple and-one’s and their guards got in there.”
Quotes of the Night
“All in all, I think we played hard. We played the 48 minutes. It’s just little things that we’ve got to clean up and get better to start winning these close games. I feel like we’re going to get there. We’re just still a team learning each other, but for the most part I feel like we played a good game.” –Hamidou Diallo “Every single night is a new challenge and a new opportunity to learn how to play against really good players and really good teams. Last night presented its own set of challenges. Tonight is a different set of challenges. The cumulative effect of those learning lessons over the course of a season add up and we just have to make sure we’re not skipping steps after these games.” –Coach Daigneault
The Thunder will have a day off before returning to Chesapeake Energy Arena to take on New Orleans in its traditional New Year’s Eve matchup. The game will air on FOX Sports Oklahoma at 7 p.m. CT and will broadcast on the radio on the Thunder Radio Network.