Game Recap: Thunder 108, Magic 99

The Thunder started its five-game road trip off on a high note with an energizing victory in Orlando. A disciplined defensive effort coupled with a balanced scoring performance helped OKC to withstand the offensive punches thrown by Orlando for 48 minutes.

Game Flow

Coming into the first game of the new year and of the Thunder’s five-game road trip, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault wanted to see his team set a tone of competitiveness from the start. It was that competitive edge that was on display on both ends of the floor for an entire 48 minutes to keep the game close and ultimately pull ahead in the fourth quarter.

Defense translated into offense as the Thunder made its presence known in the paint and made Orlando work for each of its offensive looks. That defensive energy carried over to the offensive end as the Thunder got out to a hot start from behind the arc once again knocking down four of its first five looks from deep while Orlando only sank one in the same number of attempts.

“It played a big factor,” said Thunder big man Al Horford on the Thunder’s early defensive energy. “I felt like our coaches really harped on the things that we needed to improve from last game, and we carried it over. We did a much better job. We set the tone from early in the game and I felt that our defense got us going there early.”

It wasn’t long before the Magic shook off the slow start and began knocking down shots. First it was Terrence Ross off of the bench who scored 12 points in the first stanza to give Orlando its first lead of the game. Then, after a mere seven-point first quarter, Nikola Vučević got going knocking down a pair of consecutive 3-pointers. Even still, the Thunder’s defense hung tough and only allowed 18 points in the second quarter. It marked the second time this season that OKC held an opponent to less than 20 points in a quarter.

The Thunder’s second unit played a massive role in maintaining a high-level of energy for 48 minutes. Leading the charge was Hamidou Diallo who contributed 12 points off the bench while grabbing eight rebounds. Right behind him was Thunder rookie Théo Maledon who added 12 points and four assists.

“We had great balance tonight with how we played in both ends of the floor,” said Daigneault. “I thought we got a lot of contributors top to bottom. The bench came in and gave us a great game. Those guys really helped serve and I just thought it was a good resilient game for us.”

After going into the half trailing by one point, Vučević came out in the third quarter and picked up right where he left off cashing in on back-to-back buckets from behind the arc. OKC withstood the blows with the help of Darius Bazley and George Hill who answered each Magic bucket with a stabilizing shot on the other end. Hill cashed in on 13 points in the third quarter while Bazley’s impact could be felt all over the floor. Snatching down rebounds, pushing the ball in transition and cutting without the ball all led to the Thunder’s second year forward finishing the game with a 19-point, 12-rebound double-double – the third double-double of his career.

Going into the fourth quarter, there had already by 13 ties and 10 lead changes, but the Thunder managed to hold on to a precarious two-point lead against a Magic team who leads the league in fourth-quarter points per game.

Decisive Moments

The Thunder entered into the final two minutes of the game with a slight advantage over Orlando, but not enough of a cushion to be comfortable. A layup from Aaron Gordon with just under two minutes to go in the game closed the gap to a mere five points. For back-to-back possessions, neither team made a move to alter the momentum and with one minute remaining, it seemed as though the tides could shift in either direction.

On OKC’s next possession, Hill missed an open look from 3 in the corner but it was a heads-up play by Horford to tap the ball out and maintain possession. Horford then spotted back up at the top of the key guarded by Aaron Gordon where he would get the ball once again with 50 seconds left on the clock.

Horford sized up Gordon for a moment before hitting him with a jab step to create space. Gordon’s hand fell for a split second which was long enough for Horford to raise up and sink the straight-away 3-pointer. The Thunder went up by eight points with 49 seconds left in the game and would ultimately be the play that put the Magic out of reach.

“I felt like I had some really good looks all night and for some reason they just weren't falling for me,” said Horford. ”We got to that point and it just felt really good. I know the team needed it and I felt like that put us in a good position there to close the game. So, just proud of the group for willing this game out.”

Play of the Game

Darius Bazley was the beneficiary of several high-quality looks generated by the team’s good ball movement. In the fourth quarter, a pick-and-roll between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Horford drew the attention of all five Orlando players. Rather than staying spotted up in the corner, Bazley recognized the opportunity and began to cut behind the defense. Horford, the 14-year veteran, immediately whipped the ball to Bazley on the baseline for an emphatic, uncontested two-handed slam. In a close game where neither team led by more than 10 points, an energizing play like that can be all the momentum needed to edge out a win.

“It does a lot just because everyone's getting involved and then for it to end in a dunk, that energizes the whole team,” said Bazley. “The bench gets going, and us on the court, we get going especially late in the game like that. That does a lot.”

Stat of the Night17

The Thunder’s defense held Orlando to 18 points in the second quarter and followed up the performance by holding the Magic to 17 in the fourth. Orlando came into Saturday’s game as one of the best fourth quarter teams in the NBA ranking first in points and point differential in fourth quarters this season.

It took a disciplined team effort coupled with strong individual performances to limit the Magic’s looks inside the paint and withstand the punches thrown by Orlando’s heavy-hitters in Vučević and Ross who combined for 56 points on the night.

“A lot of good individual efforts,” said Daigneault. I thought Dort and Hami (Diallo) did an unbelievable job on Ross. He obviously got it going, but nothing was really easy for him. And then the team defense against Vučević. The way that we tried to play him was very team oriented, it relied on multiple people executing a job, and I thought we did a nice job of that.”

Quotes of the NightDarius Bazley

“I think everyone kind of knew what it was it going to take to beat this team. They weren't just going to give us the game. We had to go and take it. Everyone did their part tonight. Everyone played extremely hard, everyone played for each other and that's the best basketball to not only play but I know for people to watch as well.”–Darius Bazley

“I just thought it was a good resilient game for us. We carried a lot of stuff over from the New Orleans game that we wanted to address and also from the last time we played Orlando. Orlando is a good team that makes you play a clean game to win so I was pleased with how we did that.”

–Coach Daigneault

Looking Ahead

OKC will stay in the Sunshine State for a couple more days to face the Miami Heat on Monday. Following that game, OKC will take to the Big Easy for a rematch against New Orleans on Wednesday for the third tilt in its five-game road trip.