Kevin Durant might have found something in the Amway Center that he really likes. Less than a week after winning the All-Star Game MVP in its newly minted halls, Durant put on another performance to net Oklahoma City its first win in Orlando since the franchise moved from Seattle.
Yes, the Thunder are an incredibly potent and devastating offensive team. You expect insane shots from the likes of Durant. None maybe quite as back-breaking as this.
On maybe the one decent defensive possession the Magic had, Durant just out-foxed the Magic. He received the ball at around the free throw line with the shot clock winding down. Hedo Turkoglu draped all over him trying to crowd and contest the shot. Durant stood back on one foot and heaved a shot at the rim that rotated as beautifully and perfectly as just about every Durant shot.
It dropped in as the red lights went on. Oklahoma City had a five-point lead with about a minute left. The Magic had lost what was once a 14-point lead built on beautiful ball movement and strong offensive execution. Some of the best we have seen all year. It ended with Oklahoma City wheeling and driving to the rim with relative ease, parading to the free throw line and taking away the game.
The Thunder had things easy in the end and had the win in their back pocket.
One last ditch effort from Orlando made it a close game as Ryan Anderson and Jason Richardson drained 3-pointers to bring it within three. Daequan Cook breathed life into the Magic by missing two free throw attempts with three seconds left. But Richardson's long-range 3-pointer was too strong off the backboard and fell no good.
Oklahoma City finally had its win at Orlando in a 105-102 victory at Amway Center on Thursday night.
"They took over. Durant is a top three or four player in this league. Westbrook could be in the top 10," Richardson said. "Those guys are just dangerous. They just take turns going after you. I think we kind of relaxed a little bit. When we got up on them, we didn't do enough help side to keep them from the rim.
"They hit some baskets. That's how it goes in the NBA. It just turned out in their favor tonight."
Durant and Westbrook proved to be absolutely deadly throughout the game. Durant ended up with 38 points on 12-for-21 shooting, hitting five for eight from beyond the arc. Westbrook had 29 points on 11-for-21 shooting and added 10 assists. They were two of the three Thunder players to score in double digits, but it proved to be enough.
Durant especially stepped his game up in the fourth quarter with 18 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He had his crushing one-footer that seemed to put the lead too far out of reach. But he also had a wide open three off of a poor defensive rotation that pushed the Thunder back on top by two possessions after Jameer Nelson drained a 3-pointer of his own.
The Magic, at that point, needed a stop to cut off the bleeding. And the first 3-pointer of the second half (it came with about two and a half minutes left) seemed to do it. Then Durant answered and the Magic sunk back into the depths again.
Defense, or the lack thereof, were the key words from Stan Van Gundy and the entire team after the game. Orlando gave up 35 points in the fourth quarter and 10 of 15 shooting. Oklahoma City went to the line 14 times in the final 12 minutes after attempting just seven free throws (all in the last six minutes, I might add) in the entire first half.
"Our fourth quarter defense was pathetic," Stan Van Gundy said. "I give them credit for what they did and they're hard to stop. But it shouldn't be every possession they are right at the rim on every pick and roll. We didn't stop the ball one time. It was terrible. We didn't defend well enough in the fourth quarter to deserve to win that game.
"If we had one good defensive possession in the fourth quarter, I missed it."
Orlando saw its 11-point third-quarter lead dissipate slowly in the fourth quarter as Durant poured it on and on. The things that made Orlando successful -- namely ball movement and a quickened, more energetic offensive pace -- bogged down.
It was maybe as simple as shots not falling for the Magic. They were just 8 for 25 in the fourth quarter after shooting 54.2 percent through the first three quarters. Orlando did get decent ball movement and decnet looks, but could not get the ball to go in the hole.
Those are sometimes the breaks in the NBA. But rarely do you see a team just get dominated offensively and have no way to stop it. Nothing the Magic tried defensively worked.
For a good chunk of the game, Orlando did have to rely on its offense. The Magic were killer passing the ball, executing the offense flawlessly and even pushing the pace to try and create easier scoring opportunities. Jameer Nelson had the pick and roll working with Dwight Howard throughout the night and the Thunder seemed unable to keep Nelson from turning the corner and getting in the lane to wreak havoc or to keep him from finding Howard on the roll.
"We want to get hot at the right time, and that's going into the Playoffs," Dwight Howard said. "That's when it really matters. That's the team that wins the championship, the team that is the hottest heading into the Playoffs. You don't want to hit your peak too early.
"Right now, we're cleaning up a few things. I think for three quarters tonight, our ball mvoement was great. We just have to continue to do what we did for three quarters, and we would have gotten a win tonight."
Using Howard's analogy to the rest of the season, Orlando hit its peak a little bit too early in this one. Eventually, it crumbled at the end of the game. But when things were good, they were really good.
Howard had 16 of his 33 points in the third quarter, making 8 of 10 shots in the quarter. Nelson had an aggressive game too with 15 points and nine assists (not to mention six rebounds). He was 6 for 14 from the floor (although two floaters he missed late in the fourth quarter proved critical to the panicked finish.
Orlando finished the evening with 24 assists on 40 field goals, and even in the fourth quarter had four assists on eight makes. The Magic were getting the ball moving. Just not when the team needed it late in the game.
Once again, Orlando came up short against a good team. Are the Magic among the elite? It seems losing this lead and losing this game suggest no. But like the win over the Heat, the loss to the Clippers, the overtime loss to the Spurs and the loss to the Thunder, this team can surprise when given the chance. Consistency is still the issue and the never-ending quest.
"It's definitley right there," Richardson said. "A defensive stop here, a close out here, a loose ball we didn't dive for. all those little things, that's what it comes down to when you play a good team like this. We've just got to make those extra efforts to help win games."