Tobias Harris is never one to back down from a challenge. That just is not in his make up as a basketball player.
Going toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant in the first quarter? Sure, why not? Durant is only the frontrunner for MVP and on an incredible scoring tear that has combined lethal efficiency with savvy playmaking. Harris is still learning the best ways to be efficient while searching out his offense.
One way to search out his offense is certainly in attacking the basket.
Harris is not afraid of the moment either.
So as Durant missed an elbow jumper and the ball careened off the front rim, Victor Oladipo had to first beat two Thunder players to the ball and kick start the fastbreak. He was driving to the basket with time winding down — it must have been less than two seconds left when he collected the ball at half court — and found Maurice Harkless underneath the basket.
Harkless though there was more time on the clock and felt his momentum was carrying him behind the basket. So somehow he fed the ball toward the middle of the paint.
There, Harris’ tenacity and will won out. He always had a nose for the ball and instinctively made a dive to the basket.
He took the ball and dunked it home just before the red lights came on. Durant had the better statistical game — 29 points on a frustrating 10-for-22 shooting — but Harris got to be the hero. Not even an 18-point, 6-for-17 performance in which he had 10 points in the first quarter in an attempt to match Durant early could phase Harris.
This turned out to be his game late and his team’s satisfying 103-102 victory in front of an energetic Amway Center crowd on Sunday. Orlando has won three of its last five games.
“We’re all fighting for each other, we’re all helping each other out there on the floor,” Tobias Harris said. “That’s what it’s all about. We were bought into our game plan in the second half. We had a better focus than the first half. We were all just locked in the fourth quarter.”
In that fourth quarter, the Magic held the Thunder to 14 points and 27.8 percent shooting, as both teams finally saw the defense ratchet up and the shots start to run dry. It would be a battle as Orlando came back from a 15-point first-half deficit. There was simply no quit in the Magic in this one.
And there were plenty of opportunities for Orlando to fold. Oklahoma City stemmed the tide from the young Orlando second unit and erased a four-point deficit behind consecutive baskets from Reggie Jackson. Serge Ibaka was changing shots, blocking five and altering countless more, and preventing the Magic from getting too comfortable attacking the basket.
This was a game the Thunder, you would think, would find a way to pull out.
Glen Davis though took a charge following a Magic five-second violation and Kevin Durant was settling for jumpers in shooting one for seven over the final 12 minutes. His final miss led to a long rebound which Victor Oladipo simply willed into his possession, stepping in between two Thunder defenders and pushing the ball quickly up the floor.
“KD got a great look that he normally makes,” Oladipo said. “It came off long. And I just know there was somebody right next to me trying to get the same ball. I just had to do what it took to go get it. I just had to turn on the jets one time. It’s just will, I had to get the ball. I know if I got the ball that we would have a chance to win.
“It’s just a gutsy play. We came together. We played well. It didn’t matter who was out there. Everybody was supporting each other. When you came in, everybody was ready to play and we just have to be consistent with that every day.”
Everyone was surprised that Harkless passed up what looked like an open layup created by Oladipo’s will and hustle. Everyone was going to contribute in this one as Orlando fell behind the offensive onslaught the Thunder had.
Once again, it was the second unit that buoyed the Magic and helped them back into the game again. Victor Oladipo scored 14 points off the bench and Kyle O’Quinn added nine points too. Harris scored 18 points int he end and Glen Davis turned in a solid and surprisingly efficient 14 points on 7-for-8 shooting.
The starters were struggling to score consistently, and so it was important for Orlandot get that boost once again from the “Young Guns.”
From there, it became a fight to keep the score within a reasonable distance and keep Durant from taking over the game or to keep Ibaka from changing the game toom uch on the defensive end.
The Magic continued to find a way. The final play was not exactly how things were drawn up — Arron Afflalo missed one of his three free throws down the stretch after getting fouled on a 3-pointer that would have tied the game up late — but it got the job done, even as everyone was surprised to see Harkless make the pass.
It worked out in the end.
“Those are winning plays,” Afflalo said. “Obviously the moment calls for it. It’s not hard to do with the game on the line, but Glen’s charge, Mo sprinting down there and creating that lane, Vic hustling to that rebound, and Tobias sticking with it. Those are all winning plays and that’s the reason we won with a tenth left.”