Orlando Magic Grades: Oklahoma City Thunder 120, Orlando Magic 114

The Orlando Magic struggled defensively to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder out of the lane. They fell at home on late-game mistakes and pick-and-roll defense.

Oklahoma City Thunder
120
Orlando Magic
114

Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross was lighting the lamp to keep the team in the game. Their defense was in shambles, but Terrence Ross could do enough to keep them in the game.

Toward the end of the third quarter, Ross hit a 3-pointer, then another 3-pointer, then a four-point play, then another 3-pointer, helping the Orlando Magic erase a late seven-point deficit and make the final 12 minutes a battle with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

By the final two minutes, it no longer mattered how much the Magic’s defense struggled for the previous three quarters. They had given themselves their chance to win the game, keeping it tight and fighting back to get within one with 4:58 left.

Then the wheels started to come off again. The defense got loose, fouling on back-to-back possessions on cheap reach-ins as the defense struggled to keep pace. Aaron Gordon missed two free throws with the Magic down one to give them their first lead of the game.

Evan Fournier, Markelle Fultz and Nikola Vucevic each had turnovers in the closing seconds. And Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross each missed critical shots that seemed forced. Orlando tightened up and could not break their defensive struggles.

Dennis Schroder put the game away with a 20-foot pull-up jumper with one minute to play to give the Thunder a six-point lead. Orlando was merely playing off desperation from there in falling 120-114 at the Amway Center on Wednesday.

Orlando could only look for answers in a poor defensive effort. An effort coach Steve Clifford said was not good and did not improve at any point during the course of the game. Thunder ball handlers, he said, got to their spots and the big-man rotation was late to challenge or unable to stop lob attempts over their head.

While the Magic found short bursts of defense enough to get back into the game, the Thunder always had the front foot. They took it to the Magic in the paint, shooting 60.5 percent from the floor. It was like that all game as the Thunder simply had the Magic’s number.

Orlando showed the fight to stay in the game. But ultimately the Magic’s own mistakes and poor defense doomed the team in the end.

There is a deeper side to this though. There were plenty of missed shots that Vucevic simply has to make that he has struggled with all year. There were some critical turnovers, including losing the ball when Chris Paul pulled the chair on him late. And there were just poor post-up decisions.

More distressingly, Nikola Vucevic lost contact with Nerlens Noel on several occasions, giving up several lobs to the basket. He struggled to track Mike Muscala on pops to the 3-point line, allowing the big man to hit all four of his 3-pointers for 14 points. His timing was just off everywhere. For a star player, the Magic needed him to elevate his game and he has struggled to hold that mantle.

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NIKOLA VUCEVIC

C, Orlando Magic

C-

Nikola Vucevic was both savior and goat for much of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He scored 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out five assists. He made 10 of his 20 shots for the game. On paper, it looked like Vucevic had a solid game. And for long stretches, he was about the only offense the Magic could muster.

There is a deeper side to this though. There were plenty of missed shots that Vucevic simply has to make that he has struggled with all year. There were some critical turnovers, including losing the ball when Chris Paul pulled the chair on him late. And there were just poor post-up decisions.

More distressingly, Nikola Vucevic lost contact with Nerlens Noel on several occasions, giving up several lobs to the basket. He struggled to track Mike Muscala on pops to the 3-point line, allowing the big man to hit all four of his 3-pointers for 14 points. His timing was just off everywhere. For a star player, the Magic needed him to elevate his game and he has struggled to hold that mantle.