VucevicStepUpThunder020714

Magic’s Friday game-winner a culmination of several little plays

Rarely do games come down to single moments. It is easy to point out to the final two minutes of a game and square it out, particularly when a game is close to the very end. Little plays always make quite the difference.

So when a play is as dramatic as Friday night's game-winning effort, it is important to note the little things that made that happen.

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In the wake of Kirk Goldsberry unveiling his new player-tracking statistic, Expected Possession Value, that attempts to track the effects each player movement on both ends of the floor has on the expected points the team will score. While the data is not available yet, Friday's play certainly was a collection of little plays.

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That is what the players were talking about after the game and before practice on Saturday morning. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel collected a good sense of the little plays that were needed to make this play happen.

The play really starts on the defensive end where Nikola Vucevic stepped up to cut off Durant's path to the basket on the pick and roll and force the contested shot he missed  to ignite the fast break.

You can see here in the screen shot that Vucevic steps directly into Durant's path and cuts him off. With just five seconds left on the shot clock, Durant decides not to try to get around him and pull up for the jumper. Thabo Sefolosha set a pretty poor screen on Maurice Harkless so Vucevic's show on the pick and roll gave Harkless enough time to recover and contest the shot.

It was about perfect, according to Jacque Vaughn:

He was in just about perfect position on that play," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of Vucevic. "When we talked about Nik being out and we talked about rebounds and him being a big, what I've said time and time again is his pick-and-roll defense from a big guy is really good. For him to be able to contest Durant's shot, to be able to have the ability to be up in pick-and-roll coverage that way, is pretty impressive for him.

That one play from Vucevic sets in motion the series of events that ended with Harris getting the dunk.

Notice where Oladipo and Harris are as the shot goes up:

The big key to the play eventually is Victor Oladipo outhustling Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha to the rebound. Again, this is a little play that made a big difference in the game. The shot hits the rim with about six seconds left and the three key players are below the free throw line. Tobias Harris is even below the block doing a great job boxing out Serge Ibaka.

Everyone here is caught ball-watching a bit. Within two seconds however, Oladipo reacts and holds off Jackson for the rebound. Harkless is at the 3-point line even with Oladipo and Harris is beginning to get things going.

As Oladipo said, Harris is faster than we all think — player-tracking numbers show Harris runs at an average of 4.2 miles per hour and travels about 2.3 miles per game — and he has a nose for the ball. There was a chance for him to get a rebound and he went out and got it. Harris really turns on the jets when Oladipo reches mid court as the Magic beat the Thunder down the floor.

Again, little hustle plays for 50/50 balls. These are often the difference between wins and losses in the NBA. Good teams typically know they can rely on their defense to create these winning opportunities, teams that struggle come out on the wrong end of them or do not do it consistently.

On Friday night — and then again on Sunday night — the Magic made the plays they needed to at the end. Another valuable lesson learned that a big play is often the sum of its parts.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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