Ibaka, Magic Outlast Westbrook, Thunder
This one should’ve been a layup. Going into Sunday night’s tilt against former Thunder Buddy Serge Ibaka and the Orlando Magic, one would’ve thought that the Thunder would’ve coasted through this one.
Not because the Magic are a poor team, but because of how drastically different the teams are on paper. Okay, I may have lied a bit, the Magic have been pretty brutal to start the campaign.
The Magic entered tonight last in the league in points per game at 92 a game, and 27th in pace at 95.5 possessions per 48 minutes. They’ve got a net rating of -11. The roster is cluttered with big men, ruining any semblance of spacing. Aside from their low 11 turnovers a game and Aaron Gordon’s ridiculous dunking skills and mad hops, it’s been rough goings for the Magic.
Despite all this, the Orlando Magic came into the Peake and upset the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-117. The Thunder have now lost three straight, but none have been worse than this one. OKC came out disgustingly flat, like the bottle of soda your grandma doesn’t close tightly and leaves out of the fridge (or was that just my grandma that did that?)
It almost felt like the Thunder decided to take the first quarter off, and for OKC, that’s a HUGE problem; the first quarter has been their best quarter in almost every game so far this year. They were ice cold (6-25, 24% from the field, 0-8 from deep), and got out-hustled in almost every facet of the game, losing 16-9 on the boards, they were outscored by 10 in the paint, and they had no fast break points in the frame. One of the biggest strengths of the team is their transition attack.
The Thunder as a team finished the quarter tied at 13 with former Thunder Buddy Serge Ibaka. The rest of the Magic chipped in 14 more, making it 27-13. The Thunder started the long path to relevance in the 2nd behind a Herculean effort from Russell Westbrook, who dazzled with a dizzying array of acrobatic finishes at the rim.
Westbrook was really the only bright spot of the team for the majority of the game, and he finished with yet another triple double (41 points, 16 assists, and 12 rebounds.) Others had small moments (Andre Roberson had 4 blocks in the first half, Steven Adams had a 13 point 10 rebound double-double), but all-in-all the rest of the squad (especially the bench, who finished -34 on the night) let Russ down in this one.
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The Thunder trailed by as many as 21 in this one, and eventually the inefficiencies of the Magic began to catch up with them and the Thunder started chipping away at the lead. The Thunder actually shot the ball really well in the last three quarters of the game, going 42-67 from the field, good for 62.6%.
Ball movement continues to be a major concern for Oklahoma City. Westbrook had 16 of 22 Thunder assists, although they took better care of the ball tonight committing only ten turnovers. Thanks to this, and a surprising 3-3 from three down the stretch from Joffrey Lauvergne, the Thunder found themselves tied with under a minute remaining.
The Peake gave former Thunder Buddy Serge Ibaka a raucous welcome back ovation before the game, but for a large stretch was the quietest I’ve ever heard it (with good reason, this game was a snoozer for a long time.) And how does Ibaka show love? By killing Oklahoma City, finishing with a career high 31 points, 9 boards, and 4 blocks.
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It wasn’t all Ibaka for the Magic, as their backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier chipped in 23 and 21, respectively. In a poetic sort of irony, however, Ibaka hit the game winner with .4 seconds to go in the game, taking the air right back out of the Peake. Westbrook would miss a wild lob at the rim off a side inbound on the next play, sealing the game for the Magic.
Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call to the Thunder. They’re still learning how to play together. There are six new faces on the squad, and replacing Serge and Durant is no small feat, but the hot start may have made OKC feel themselves a little more than they should’ve. Their defense has been pretty porous during this three game skid, allowing over 100 points in all three. The Thunder are sitting at 6-4, and will travel to Detroit for a quick one game road trip against Andre Drummond and the Pistons.