As so often has been the case, there was a statistic to dangle in the players’ (and the fans’) faces: the Thunder had won exactly zero games in Orlando since, well, ever, and after three quarters of this one, the Magic were up eleven. But Thunder fans have learned never to abandon their seats or their TV sets under such conditions, and once again, a rather porous defense suddenly toughened up in the final frame. It is a measure of something that the Magic got off two treys in the last few seconds, and yet the Thunder still won this one, 105-102.
And OKC did this without seriously incapacitating Dwight Howard; Kendrick Perkins basically fought Howard to a draw, and yet Superman still bagged 33 points on 14-20 shooting. (Perk had the edge in rebounds, 11-9.) What’s more, all the other Orlando starters finished in double figures. But the Magic reserves were conspicuous by their insignificance: J. J. Redick, for instance, got one shot to fall all night.
But here’s the pivotal point: Russell Westbrook rolled his ankle with about five minutes left, and played for the next four and a half minutes as though nothing had happened, exiting to the locker room only when he thought the game was safely salted away. (The Blue Blur, +10 for the night, had a double-double, 29 points and 10 dimes.) That taller guy who gets all the shots? Kevin Durant went 12-21 from the floor and cashed nine consecutive free throws for 38 points. And James Harden, all by himself, outscored the entire Orlando bench. Stan Van Gundy, who threw in everything up to and including a 2-3 zone in those final few minutes, must be wondering what hit him. (We know what broke his zone: Royal Ivey hoisted a trey in the face of it.)
So that’s seven straight, the second-longest streak in the league — Miami has won eight in a row, but tonight they’re in Portland, where good teams often go to die — and Atlanta coming up, followed by five games at home. We live in, as the old curse says, interesting times.