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Thunder 120, Magic 114: Steve Clifford unhappy with Magic defense in loss to Thunder

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Schroder, Paul and Shai combined for 68 points as the Magic fell short in their late comeback attempt

Oklahoma City Thunder v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a cold night inside and out as the Magic’s early shooting woes and subpar defense ultimately cost them.

The Oklahoma City Thunder escaped, 120-114, behind the Thunder’s three headed backcourt, Dennis Schroder, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

With Steven Adams unavailable, the Magic sought to dominate the paint and the boards, but instead settled all too often for three while getting completely dismantled in the pick-and-roll all night long.

Schroder was the hammer that crushed every Magic run as he carved up the Magic’s half court defense with 31 points much of which came in the second half.

Nikola Vucevic was the steady hand for the Magic on the night, but the scoring sprees that almost clawed the Magic back into the game were led by Terrence Ross and Michael Carter-Williams, each of whom injected spurts of adrenaline late in the third and early in the fourth.

But once clutch time came, there was no answer for Chris Paul. The Thunder came into the game number one in net rating in clutch (26.2) and they’ll just add to that tally after this game.

The Magic likely aren’t used to the Florida winter and came in just as cold shooting just 8 of their first 26 shots (2/10 from three).

The Thunder were happy to pick apart the Magic in halfcourt sets as Paul continually picked apart the defense using his exquisite pick-and-roll manipulation, snaking in and out of the Magic’s sets.

They used their three-guard combination of Paul, Alexander and Schroder to get out to a 46-32 gap but the Magic would respond with a 19-9 spurt of their own, hitting four of six threes in the process.

Magic had a brief scare early in the first when Markelle Fultz hit the deck. Down DJ Augustin, losing Fultz could have been disastrous. But the kid shook it off and came back into his normal rotation in the second.

From the Orlando Magic:

Markelle Fultz suffered a sprained fourth metacarpal on his left hand during the first quarter tonight vs. Oklahoma City. X-rays taken were negative. Fultz is listed as probable to return.”

Vucevic would bring the Magic back with his 14 first half points to go along with his seven rebounds. No other Magic player would score over seven points as the group shot just 21/53 (39.6 percent) from the field in the first.

The Thunder’s tandem of Shai and Schroder carved up the Magic with 22 combined points, but it was Noel’s easy 10 points (all at the rim) that were perhaps the most frustrating. Noel continued to snake his way behind the defense catching Paul and Shai’s sweet lobs for crowd-awing slams.

The Magic came out hot early in the third with a 12-6 run engineered by the scoring and playmaking of Vuc, but Paul would respond with an 12-0 run of his own to extend back to 76-63.

Schroder would respond with a barrage of mid-range and perimeter looks of his own, carving up the Magic’s defense including this nasty move on a big mismatch.

Enter the human torch.

Ross scored 12 of the Magic’s final 14 points in the third giving the Magic a brief tie. Heat check after heat check, Ross couldn’t miss and brought Magic fans to their feet on this four-point play.

As the Magic looked to wrestle the game away from the Thunder, Schroder responded. He continued to carve up the magic defense with his combination of speed and playmaking, regularly finding space at the rim and beyond the arc.

Aaron Gordon would bring the Magic within one (107-106) and had a brief opportunity to give the Magic the lead at the free throw line before missing both free throws.

From there on out, it was Paul who took over with eight points in the final five minutes.

Ross led the Magic with 26 points (24 of which came in the second half). Vucevic added 24 points. 11 rebounds and six assists. MCW had a solid game with 15 points, three assists and two rebounds. Fultz finished with 11 points, six assists and five rebounds.

For the Thunder it was Schroder with 31 points and nine assists, Paul with 19 points, six assists, three steals and three rebounds, while Alexander added 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Next up, the Magic host the Boston Celtics on Friday night.