For only the seventh time in the organization’s history, the Oklahoma City Thunder dropped three games in a row at home falling 117-119 tonight to the Orlando Magic. Serge Ibaka made his return to Oklahoma City for the first time since being traded to Orlando over the summer, and he came ready to play. After trailing by as many as twenty-one points in the second quarter, the Thunder fought back to lead late in the game, but they simply could not hold on as Ibaka hit the game-winning shot for the Magic with 0.4 seconds left in the game.
First Half Defense Dooms the Thunder
Early in the season, Oklahoma City had a terrible habit of starting games slow, but it seemed as if the Thunder had finally overcome that issue. Tonight was possibly the worst start the Thunder has had all season as Oklahoma City trailed 7-20 only nine minutes into the game. The deficit grew to twenty-one points only four minutes into the second quarter before the Thunder turned it around and cut it to ten at the half.
Oklahoma City came out guns blazing in the second half, largely due to the play of Russell Westbrook, going up by four with a minute left in the third. The Magic then went back up by two to end the quarter. In the fourth, the two teams battled back and forth as the Thunder took a four-point lead with only 1:13 left in the game and a three-point lead with 44 seconds left in the game. Orlando SG Evan Fournier hit a three with 29 seconds left to tie the game at 117 apiece. On the next possession, Westbrook missed a shot, Orlando rebounded the ball with eleven seconds to play, and Serge Ibaka hit a 9-foot turnaround jumper to win the game for the Magic.
Team Ball Puts Thunder In Position To Win
Despite losing the game, Oklahoma City proved that other players not named Westbrook can contribute in an effective way and put the Thunder in a good enough position to win the game. Aside from Russell’s 41 points, four other players scored in double digits (Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, and Enes Kanter), and two others came close as Joffrey Lauvergne scored 9 points and Alex Abrines scored 7 points.
Oklahoma City started off the game shooting terribly, but the Thunder ended up shooting an impressive 51.1% from the field, despite only making seven of twenty-eight attempts from behind the arc. Oklahoma City needs to see continued contribution from the team as a whole like this if they want to have a chance at making some noise in the Western Conference come time for Playoffs.
Westbrook Earns 40th Career Triple-Double
Russell Westbrook became the 8th player in NBA history reach 40 career triple-doubles as he put up 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 16 assists tonight. Tonight was Westbrook’s third triple-double of the season and his fifth ever 40-point triple-double outing. Despite Westbrook’s impressive performance, the Thunder were unable to pull out the win, and Russ has made it very clear on multiple occasions that he cares more about getting the win than he does any individual accolades.
The Devil is in the Details
First half defense was the most obvious issue for the Thunder, but a closer look at some more specific stats prove to be significant contributors to the loss tonight. Oklahoma City shot poorly from the free throw line making only sixteen of twenty-six attempts, including Westbrook missing five of his eighteen free throw attempts.
The Thunder also did a poor job at defending the arc as the Orlando Magic made eleven of twenty-four attempts from three, many of which were uncontested. Oklahoma City is in a situation where they cannot afford to falter significantly in any area of the game, and if they want to be taken seriously, they have to sort out some of these issues quickly.
Thunder Heads to Detroit
Oklahoma City heads to the Palace at Auburn Hills to take on the Detroit Pistons tomorrow at 6:30 PM on FSOK. Late last season, the Thunder fell to the Pistons 82-88 in a game in which Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka sat out. This time, neither of those two players are even on the Thunder roster, and it is basically guaranteed that Russell Westbrook has not long forgotten the way that Reggie Jackson flaunted the victory in his face. The Thunder desperately need a win, so the team should come out hungry and ready to play.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.