Orlando Magic Grades: Orlando Magic 119, Oklahoma City Thunder 117

Serge Ibaka had quite the homecoming against the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring a career high and hitting the game winner for the Orlando Magic.

VS.

1 2 3 4 T
Magic 27 30 25 37 119
Thunder 13 34 37 33 117

Frank Vogel could only go to one person with the game tied as the Orlando Magic took on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The score was tied with 11 seconds to go, the Magic getting that stop they desperately needed.

Here was their moment to execute offensively, that biggest of problems for the team throughout the season’s first two weeks. Vogel called his play and gave it to the man to whom this game likely meant the most.

For seven years, Serge Ibaka was the third wheel behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The important cog that unleashed things defensively and turned this collection of scorers into a championship-contending team. He was always the one pushed to the side.

This game became his moment.

Vogel called the play for Ibaka, something the Thunder rarely did in seven years. He curled to the baseline off Nikola Vucevic and hit a short jumper over the defense with 0.4 seconds left to deliver an 119-117 victory over the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday. It was, Ibaka said, his first game-winning shot.

The game though meant a whole lot more, of course. Ibaka poured in a career night and looked like his old self again.

The Magic too began to look like the team everyone always envisioned. They got stops defensively, inviting the Thunder into the shots they wanted them to take and keeping them out of the paint. They pushed the pace off misses and took advantage of the mismatches off secondary breaks.

Orlando’s strong defense did not last. Just like their 21-point lead they built. Eventually, Russell Westbrook took over. And Enes Kanter dominated the glass. The Magic had to hang on for dear life as the Thunder tied the game by the fourth quarter.

Once again, though, the Magic fought back. They executed well and they found a way to win the game. Even trailing late in the fourth quarter, Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton made big shots. The Magic got their stops and contained Westbrook enough.

They set themselves up for the win and executed to the finish, making big shots and getting good shots throughout the process to score the win and end their three-game losing streak.

Serge Ibaka

PF, Orlando Magic

A

At long last, the Orlando Magic saw Serge Ibaka.

This is not just about his offense, where he scored a career-high 31 points on 13-for-19 shooting. He was active around the basket and on the glass. The Magic ran a play for him to begin the game and it was the kind of face-up play in the low post that made Ibaka a dangerous weapon for the Thunder.

Ibaka earned his A for his defense. He recorded four blocks, including two stuffs on dunks from Steven Adams. He was a terror around the basket and helped the Magic limit Russell Westbrook early on, at least. The Magic were able to dictate what the Thunder did from teh very beginning of the game. This was the impact Ibaka was always supposed to have.

Nikola Vucevic

C, Orlando Magic

C+

With Serge Ibaka standing out, it made Nikola Vucevic stand out a little bit more. Sometimes for the wrong reasons.

Vucevic was caught in foul trouble for most of the game. He scored four points on 2-for-10 shooting with seven rebounds. He played just 19.5 minutes. He just made very little impact. And his defensive struggles that have led to all the questions about him continued to arise throughout the game.

Kanter easily got by him in the post and driving from the high post. He got outpositioned on rebounds several times. And his fouling was a lot of a result of his poor lateral movement. Against the Thunder’s more agile bigs, he struggled again.

Everything though worked out in the end. Vucevic was a big reason Ibaka sprung free for the game winner. Chalk this up as a bad game.

Elfrid Payton

PG, Orlando Magic

A-

Elfrid Payton can be really good and really bad. When he is really good, he looks like he is the clear starting point guard. And even without a consistent shot can make a major difference in any game. He can get to the basket and distribute, racking up assists quickly. He can be smothering on defense.

Payton was all those things Sunday night. He scored 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting, including three fourth-quarter 3-pointers. He shot confidently in that fourth quarter and attacked the paint aggressively. He was, in short, the point guard the Magic need him to be. He controlled the tempo of the game and produced at the biggest moments for the Magic.

He still had his bouts of inconsistency. The Thunder switched Westbrook off him and put a bigger defender on him to hang back and entice mid-range jumpers. Payton took the bait and the game slowed down. The Magic let the Thunder back into the game because of this. And Westbrook did get himself going downhill too.

But Payton snapped back to attention and attacked to end the game. And came up big in the end.

Jeff Green

F, Orlando Magic

C+

Jeff Green got his second start of the season. And the only good thing about the move is that it does appear to have unleashed Aaron Gordon some in lineups that fit him better at the 3 than the Magic’s starting lineup. Orlando still needs something from Green though. Especially if he ends up closing games. And Green still seems to be . . . Jeff Green.

Green scored 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting. It seems good enough. But that is the Jeff Green story. He can produce without making an impact all the time.

Green did make shots and did make plays attacking the basket. But he also was slow defensively. He struggled in transition to contain his man and made a few bad reads and took bad angles to help slow down Westbrook. The Magic ran some isos for him when their offense was at its lowest. With him playing with the starters now, those moments are going to be fewer. And it seems like using him this way is not maximizing him. Even if it helps Gordon.

Oklahoma City Thunder

6-4, 6th West

C

The Oklahoma City Thunder came into the game as one of the best defenses in the league. They had stood toe to toe with the Los Angeles Clippers twice and seemed well on their way to a strong season. This was to be their identity. And they could roll enoug hoffense out with Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder flipped that script. Their defense was porous and the Magic scored easily. Westbrook scored 41 points, dished out 16 assists and grabbed 12 rebounds. The Magic slowed him down for one quarter, but eventually he got unleashed. No one else came with him.

Orlando did a good job initially making things hard for Westbrook. But he eventually figured things out and beat the Magic up. They were willing to concede the 3-point shot and the Thunder largely missed them. The Magic’s defensive strategy worked early. And then they simply held on, defeating a team that had been better to that point.

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