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Orlando Magic 119, OKC Thunder 117: Serge Ibaka’s career night leads Orlando

Serge Ibaka was a force on offense and defense, and they needed every bit of his career-high 31 points to beat Oklahoma City.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Magic’s headline offseason trade has not gone so well for Orlando through their first 9 games, and after their recent loss to Utah, Serge Ibaka asked Magic fans to “keep believing in me.” He made up for it seemingly all at once, putting up a career high 31 points to go with 9 rebounds and 4 blocks against his former team, and Orlando stunned OKC on the road 119-117. Elfrid Payton was huge throughout the game as well, including in the critical, back-and-forth fourth quarter, earning a 23-7-9-2-1 line with no turnovers. Russell Westbrook got yet another monster triple double, leading the Thunder’s comeback effort with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 16 assists.

The first quarter got off to a strong start for Orlando, and the highlight was the emergence of the Serge Ibaka that Magic fans have pined for all season. He got it done on both ends of the court, shooting 6-8 from the field on the way to 13 points, while putting together a massive 4 blocks, a crucial part of holding the Thunder to just 13 points in the quarter. The highlight moment was two consecutive blocks on Steven Adams as he rose up to dunk the ball twice, getting stuffed both times by Ibaka. Payton was a force throughout the first half as well, getting into the paint at will against a Thunder defense that offered little resistance all night. He had 8 points and 2 assists in the first as the Magic led 27-13.

The Magic’s offense showed little signs of letting up in the second quarter, but the defense quickly came undone. After scoring just 5 points in the first, Westbrook went off for 14 in the second. While Orlando had done a fairly good job of containing his movement around the court, using doubles while leaving others open, Westbrook found ways to penetrate, especially with Ibaka off the court. That didn’t stop Ibaka from continuing to stuff the stat sheet on the offensive end, adding another 6 points to match Westbrook’s 19 in the half. Still, Orlando retained a solid lead at halftime, 57-47.

Unfortunately, the third quarter was in many ways a continuation of the second for Orlando, who couldn’t recapture the defensive energy from the first quarter. While the Westbrook train just kept on rolling, other Thunder players got involved too, as Adams added 7 points in the quarter and Kanter got going with 8. The Magic’s offense slowed down...except for Ibaka, who simply could not be stopped, getting to 29 points and eclipsing his previous career high of 27. He got it done all over the court, making shots from long range while finding the post touch that’s eluded him all season. Still, the Thunder’s offensive output was too much to keep up with, and they finally took the lead near by the end of the quarter, 84-82.

The fourth quarter was a dramatic affair, with ridiculous plays coming from both teams. Westbrook did whatever he wanted, including abusing Ibaka 1-on-1 on three straight plays, getting two pullup jumpers and a foul on a 3-pointer. While Westbrook put up another ridiculous statline, his 5 missed free throws would prove to be important at the end. Every one of Westbrook’s baskets felt like it could have been backbreaking, but every time the Magic found a way to respond, and much of that response came from Elfrid Payton. Payton dropped three 3-pointers in the quarter, often coming at times when a miss might have sunk the Magic for good.

At the very end, the Magic ran a play to get Fournier open off a screen, and he drained his second 3-pointer of the quarter to tie the game. Westbrook finally missed a jumper on the Thunder’s next trip down the floor, leaving the Magic 11 seconds to get a game-winner. Serge Ibaka was there to provide it, draining a tough jumper fading toward the baseline with 0.4 seconds left. The Thunder attempted a lob to Westbrook to tie the game, but it was well-covered and sailed out of bounds, giving the Magic their improbable win.