By Wade Haugen
Chesapeake Energy arena was in a great mood overall before Sunday night’s tipoff against the Magic. The Thunder were welcoming back one of their founding brothers in the form of Serge Ibaka, who was traded to Orlando on draft night this past June. Ibaka received a very warm ovation from Thunder fans, who channeled their appreciation in the form of loud cheers for the defensive star.
Ibaka gave thanks back to the Thunder faithful with a career-high night, finishing the game with 31 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He capped the night off by hitting a game-winning shot to beat the Thunder 119-117.
“I’m not going to lie to you. It feels good,” Ibaka said afterward.
The Thunder came out very flat in the first quarter, and although they gave a very valiant effort to come back in the second half, it was too little, too late. Coming off a record-breaking night on Friday night in which they knocked down 16 three-pointers, the Thunder were trying to match that effort early in the first quarter, but it was to no avail.
At the end of the first, the Thunder were shooting just 6/25 from the field and allowed 20 points in the paint already. Against a team like Orlando, which has clear deficiencies shooting from distance, this was not a winning formula.
The struggles the Thunder encountered in the first quarter continued on for a good portion of the night.
It was clear that Orlando’s defensive game plan was to pack the paint and force the Thunder to beat them from outside. This didn’t work all night, as Russell Westbrook was able to slash through the Magic’s defense to the tune of 41 points, 12 assists, and 16 rebounds. The Thunder’s defeat wasn’t from a lack of effort by their star point guard.
“It’s going to take some time for this team to hit its stride. It takes patience throughout games, patience throughout practices, patience throughout the entire season to figure out what is best for this team,” Westbrook said after the game.
The new-look Thunder will continue to try to figure things out as they travel to Detroit to play the Pistons Monday night at 6:30.