After beginning the season 4-0 for the first time in franchise history, the Orlando Magic have now dropped two consecutive contests after falling at home 108-99 to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night.
Darius Bazley led a balanced Thunder attack, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Veteran guard George Hill scored 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 16 points and 7 assists.
Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross led the way for the Magic, combining for over half of Orlando’s points (56 combined points). Unfortunately, the rest of the team shot a putrid 18 for 66 from the field (27.2 percent).
“We need to make shots when we’re open,” Aaron Gordon told reporters after the game. “We missed a lot of open shots. Some nights they don’t go in, but that’s on us.”
After trailing by as many as 37 in the first half Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Magic spotted the Thunder eight of the game’s first ten points. Oklahoma City stretched their first quarter lead to seven points following a straight-line drive by Bazley, two of his four points in the paint in the game’s opening period.
Following a Clifford timeout, the Magic went on a 9-2 late first quarter run. Vucevic hit a three from the left-wing off a nice find from Gordon, which led to an Oklahoma City timeout (and an early lead for Orlando).
The Magic played a clean first quarter offensively, shooting 50 percent from the floor (and from beyond the arc, 3-6 3PTA’s) without turning the ball over a single time. Ross, who missed Thursday’s game against Philadelphia, picked back-up where he left off this season, torching the net to the tune of 12 points in the first quarter.
Orlando was ice cold to begin the second quarter, missing eight of their first ten attempts from the field (seven consecutive). A layup in transition by Khem Birch ended the drought and kept the Magic clinging to a slim first half lead, but that advantage was short-lived.
The Magic shot 26.9 percent (8 for 27 FGA’s) in the second, but the Thunder didn’t exactly light it up either (9 for 21 FGA’s, 42.9 percent). Orlando and Oklahoma City combined to turn the ball over nine times in a relatively ugly second period.
Rookie guard Theo Maledon, who knocked down a jumper at the buzzer to end the first quarter, found success orchestrating the Thunder’s second unit - scoring five of his seven first half points in the second quarter to help Oklahoma City take a one-point lead into the half. Maledon finished with 12 points in 18 minutes.
Vucevic caught fire coming out of the half, scoring eight of Orlando’s first ten points in the third period. The franchise’s all-time leader in field goals made led the way with 10 of his 30 points in the third quarter, at a time when the Magic needed him the most. Outside of Vucevic (and Ross off the bench), Orlando’s four other starters struggled to get much of anything going for most of the contest.
“(Vucevic)’s off to a terrific start, he’s in a good place,” Clifford said after the game. “He’s worked hard, prepared hard, and he’s playing at a very high level.”
Coach Clifford tried to buy his All-Star big man some time on the bench to rest during a critical three-minute stretch to end the third quarter, with the game tied at 74-74.
Orlando’s’ second unit was able to keep things close, staying with the Thunder until Vucevic returned to the game with just over nine minutes remaining in the contest (the Thunder created a 16-14 advantage over the roughly six minutes Vucevic was out).
Unfortunately, Oklahoma City increased that advantage thanks to a huge momentum swing that saw Dwayne Bacon miss an uncontested layup from point-blank range, which was immediately followed by a three-point field goal from the left corner by Bazley. A dunk from Bazley a couple of possessions later put the Thunder up eight with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
“The thing that stands out, before watching the film, is just missed shots,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game. “In one of he biggest stretches of the game, we had a missed dunk and a missed layup, which led to two open three’s (that they made). Which went from us - who should have been up - to them up five (points).”
Two late buckets from Gordon made the contest a two possession game, but a back-breaking Fultz turnover with 1:22 left - and the Magic trailing 102-97 - killed any thoughts of a possible comeback. Al Horford knocked-down a three from the top of the key, which iced the game at 105-97 for the Thunder with less than a minute remaining.
Ross finished with 26 points in 31 minutes (9-21 FGA’s, 4-9 3PTA’s).
“We’re professionals, it’s always the next man up mentality,” Gordon said after the game, when asked about the team missing starting guard Evan Fournier Saturday. “We’ve played with each other for enough time now that we know where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do.”
“For sure, we could have won (the game), we had chances,” Ross said after the game. “We just didn’t make enough plays. It’s going to be tough to swallow for a little bit. But at the same time - you’ve got to dust it off, get back out there tomorrow, and get ready for the following (game).”
That game will come Monday night at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland is in town for a two-game series with the Magic (January 4th-January 6th).