Two nights after a dispiriting home loss to the Sacramento Kings, the Orlando Magic bounced back in a major way, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder by a 111-88 final score behind one of Dwight Howard's finest performances of the season. Howard imposed his will on both ends of the floor, shooting 16-of-20 from the field--with 9 dunks--for 40 points on offense and blocking 6 shots on defense. He also hauled in 15 boards. The undersized Nick Collison and overmatched Cole Aldrich couldn't stop him, and Orlando smartly fed him the ball whenever possible. Hedo Turkoglu posted a game-high 10 assists, many of them over the top of the Thunder's defense for alley-oop lobs for Howard. Additionally, Jason Richardson scored 17 points and maded five three-pointers, while J.J. Redick shot 6-of-12 off the Magic's bench for 16 points.
Offense came easily for Orlando tonight, just as it did in its loss to the Thunder last month. The biggest difference came on the defensive end, where the Magic expertly bottled up Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder's All-Stars. The pair shot 14-of-41 from the field for 41 points, with very few of those baskets coming easily. Jameer Nelson played off Westbrook, who has a suspect outside shot, when he could afford to, and otherwise stayed in front of the speedy third-year pro. And, as color analyst Hubie Brown pointed out, Orlando's blitzed its pick-and-roll coverage on those two players, forgetting about the roll-man entirely to key in on them. It worked magnificently.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
When the Magic's perimeter guys got beat off the bounce, their help-side defenders rotated over to take away any advantage the Thunder might have had. Howard showed tonight, to the people who only admire him for his blocks, that he's one of the best help defenders in the league with his on-point work there. Second-year forward Earl Clark, who logged an effective 22 minutes off the bench, also did great work here. When he's playing this well, this energetically, on D, you can forgive his 0-of-4 shooting. For sure.
Following the loss to the Kings, Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy challenged Orlando's players to sacrifice some of their offense in order to play harder on defense. We saw that dynamic at work tonight. Turkoglu only took 5 shots in 37 minutes. Richardson let it fly 12 times in 39 minutes. Redick played 32 minutes and only put up 12 shots. This is the sort of balance, and willingness to give up one's offense, that Howard and Van Gundy wanted to see.
Holding the Thunder's offense down is no mean feat. They average 110.7 points per 100 possessions, among the best marks in the league. For Orlando to shut that group down speaks about its potential and commitment on that end. Of course, we could see a regression, in terms of effort, in their next game Sunday evening against the Charlotte Bobcats. But if the Magic needed a reminder of what they're capable of when they simply play to their potential on defense, they got it tonight. And that was some championship-level defense.
The Magic also held off a few Thunder rallies, which is encouraging. The team got a big lead, let some of it slip away, but didn't check out of the game at any point. And if Oklahoma City forward Daequan Cook doesn't drill his first four threes, for instance, we're talking about an even bigger blowout.