When the Orlando Magic entered Wednesday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, they knew it would be a test of effort, not ability. The Magic were mired in a nine-game losing streak, and the Thunder’s Big Three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony can be an unforgiving bunch.
Orlando responded by holding their opponents to 39 percent shooting and using a 26-3 run in the fourth quarter to silence the visiting Thunder – and maybe they saw a glimpse of their own developing star in the process.
Though the Magic had their issues, including allowing a season-high 20 offensive rebounds, and a typical fourth quarter explosion from Westbrook, the team stayed even keel and handled business.
If two stats could tell the story of Wednesday’s performance, it was that the Thunder attempted 20 more shots and scored 13 fewer points. The Thunder rained down shot after shot, and it just didn’t matter – for the first time in nine games, the Magic would not be deterred.
“We just needed to win, period,” said swingman Evan Fournier on the Magic’s energy, “Obviously, it doesn’t erase the nine-game win streak, but it feels good.”
Part of the reason for this special night in Orlando was an even more special one by fourth-year power forward Aaron Gordon. Gordon had possibly the best night of his young career, notching 40 points for the second time this season, as well as 15 rebounds, four assists, and four steals.
The consistent thing that was echoed by Gordon’s teammates and head coach Frank Vogel is that Gordon’s 40-point night came naturally and within the flow of the offense.
“He wasn’t out there trying to play superhero,” said Vogel on Gordon’s performance, “he played within himself for the most part and as a result, he shot a high percentage.”
Vogel then went on to say “(Gordon’s) numbers were up because his minutes were up,” which may be up for debate, but one this is for sure – Gordon played the entire second half, something he hadn’t done since high school or AAU by his own recollection.
If there is hope to be found amid this rough stretch, it can be found in Aaron Gordon, who has all the tools of a star in the making.
He was far from alone, however. Magic Point guard Elfrid Payton, who had been struggling recently, came out on fire and set the tone early. The Magic jumped out to a 20-10 lead early in the first, as Payton whipped the ball around the court and put Westbrook on the floor with a crossover that sent the crowd into an uproar.
Payton’s 19 points were good enough for second-best on the team as four of the five starters scored at least 15 points.
To his credit, Russell Westbrook finished with 37 points on 11-of-23 shooting, but the other two Thunder All-Stars combined for 38 points on 36 percent from the floor.
The Magic will look to ride this wave of momentum as they face one of their toughest tests of the season: a home date with the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors on Friday.