After blowing a five-point lead against Portland a week ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder turned up the focus on defense late in games.
It worked against New Orleans on Sunday, and the Thunder did it again Tuesday night, riding 24 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a 102-94 victory over the Orlando Magic.
“I thought we executed very well and then we defended really, really well coming down the stretch,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. “I’ve seen significant growth and improvement from the guys.”
Chris Paul added 20 points — eight in the final 2:09 — along with six assists for the Thunder (3-4), who held their opponent under 100 points for the fourth time in seven games. Steven Adams had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’re sort of figuring it out, finding some sets that we like to go to,” Paul said.
Aaron Gordon had 15 points and eight rebounds to lead the Magic (2-5), who scored just 15 points in the fourth quarter and have yet to reach 100 in a game this season. Orlando had six players reach double figures in points, including Jonathan Isaac, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. Nikola Vucevic had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “We were right there. We’ve got to find ways to score in the fourth quarter. We’ve got to be able to step up and make some of those, we had a couple of wide-open ones there. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
Oklahoma City led 58-53 at halftime and managed to hold onto the lead until Al-Farouq Aminu’s two free throws tied it at 81 early in the fourth quarter.
The Magic tied it at 83 a couple of minutes later but never regained the advantage. They pulled within 88-87 on Gordon’s long jump shot with 4:44 remaining, but Oklahoma City used a 9-2 run over the three-plus minutes to regain control.
Both teams shot poorly in the fourth quarter, with the Thunder at 33.3 percent (7 of 21) and Orlando at 26.3 (5 of 19).
“We’ve got to make shots, we are shooting a terrible percentage as a team,” said Gordon, whose team shot 39 percent (32 of 82) on the night. “I think we are doing an OK job on defense, but you aren’t going to win the game without offense.”
Orlando: Evan Fournier entered tied for the team lead with 16.8 points per game but managed just four, all free throws, while shooting 0 of 7. It was his first game this season in single digits. … The Magic held the edge in rebounds, 53-38, with 16 offensive boards, including 11 in the first half. … Orlando held a significant advantage in bench points, outscoring the Thunder’s reserves 39-26.
Oklahoma City: Denis Schroder averaged 19.5 points over his previous four outings but scored just five in this one, shooting 2 of 11 from the floor. … The Thunder hold a 10-2 record against Orlando at home, winning four in a row.
Before the game, the Thunder paid tribute to the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, inviting family members of the 168 people killed in the attack onto the court for a short observance prior to the national anthem, while holding up customized Thunder jerseys with the number 95 on it, along with the last name of their loved one.
Orlando: The Magic travel to Dallas on Wednesday night. The Mavericks are off to a surprising 4-2 start.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder are on the road Thursday to take on the San Antonio Spurs.
Gilgeous-Alexander Leads Thunder Past Magic 102-94