Kevin Durant and the Thunder as a team haven’t been exactly successful when visiting the Magic in Orlando, but this season seems to be different for the best team in the West. The All-Star MVP scored 38 points, leading the Thunder back from a 14 point deficit to beat the Orlando Magic 105-102.
Dwight Howard and the Magic did very well, almost perfectly, for the first three quarters. The entire starting lineup finished in double figures, with Dwight Howard leading the way, scoring 33 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Suddenly, in the fourth, everything that worked so well all game long got shut down, while Kevin Durant nearly outscored them on his own in the final 12 minutes.
When your defense was as bad as ours was in the fourth, it’s going to hurt your offense. We just literally didn’t play any defense in the fourth quarter . . . If we had one good defensive possession in the fourth quarter, I missed it. (Stan Van Gundy)
It’s both ends. We have to be able to execute and get stops. That’s the one thing we didn’t do well tonight in the fourth quarter. But it’s a good lesson for us. (Dwight Howard)
But Durant playing so well, being pretty much unstoppable when aggressive, isn’t surprising. After last year’s playoffs, when both the Grizzlies and the Mavericks limited Durant and frustrated him by trying to allow him possessions as far away from the basket as possible, he’s made some changes. Much more assertive and headstrong when going up the court to fight for a good starting position.
Having Russell Westbrook playing the perfect sidekick didn’t hurt as well. Known for both good and bad, Westbrook was pretty much exactly what Brooks and the Thunder want & need him to be. He finished with 29 points and 10 assists, but even more importantly, he pushed the ball to Durant when it mattered the most, instead of trying to force shots and win the game on his own.
It’s wins like these that show how far the Thunder and Durant have come this season, and just how ready they are to take their playoff push this season a step further, boasting the best away record in the West, making it 13-6 after their win over the Magic.