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Oklahoma City comes alive down stretch to top Magic

The SportsXchange

ORLANDO -- It wasn't how well they played, but when they played that made all the difference Friday night for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder were flawless down the stretch, turning a tight second half into an impressive 97-89 victory at the Orlando Magic.

Kevin Durant scored 25 points, including 11 in the final six minutes when the Thunder answered each Magic charge. Russell Westbrook had 10 of his 19 points in the final seven minutes.

While the co-stars dominated at one end, the Thunder (51-19) tightened their defense at the other end, getting four blocked shots in the final 3:40 to hold off a Magic charge.

"We made the big plays when we needed them," Durant said. "It's what we've done all season."

The Thunder snapped a two-game losing streak. The Magic (18-52) lost their sixth consecutive game.

Durant, Westbrook and the defense came to the rescue after a second-half Magic rally that tied the game at 86. Serge Ibaka had 14 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots.

Magic rookie Maurice Harkless scored a career-high 25 points, including 18 in the second half to lead the Magic comeback. Tobias Harris had 10 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

The Magic led briefly by two points with 7:25 remaining in the fourth quarter after Beno Udrih hit a short jumper, which woke up the sleeping Thunder.

"When the games are close, you have to find a way to win down the stretch," Westbrook said. "We just did a good job of finishing this game. It's all about good timing."

The Thunder took an 86-82 lead after Durant hit his first 3-pointer. They led 89-86 when Durant hit his second 3-pointer with 2:41 remaining. After the Magic closed to 89-88, Durant scored the game's next five points to secure the victory.

Ibaka blocked two shots, and West and Kendrick Perkins had one each, as the Magic struggled to match the Thunder scoring in the final 3:40.

"I liked the way we finished," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Each possession was intense and focused. I thought the first and fourth quarters were good basketball."

Durant added eight rebounds and Westbrook nine assists to help key the victory. The Thunder made 24 of 33 free throws. The Magic made just eight of 10. The Thunder also held a 49-44 rebound edge.

After trailing by 13 points at intermission, the Magic rallied in the third quarter and tied the score at 62. The Magic opened the second half with 10 consecutive points, including a pair of 3-pointers from Jameer Nelson.

Harkless, who often was guarding Durant, had 12 points in the Magic's big third quarter. Nelson, who had just two points in the first half, had 14 points in the third.

The Thunder led 47-34 at halftime, despite their continued long-range shooting struggles. The Thunder, who had shot just 25.4 percent from 3-point range in the previous seven games, missed their first five 3-point shots before reserve Kevin Martin made a pair. They made only five of 21.

The Thunder forced the Magic into eight, first-quarter turnovers and jumped to a 22-14 lead. Westbrook started slowly on offense and missed his first five shots.

The Magic, already without starting center Nikola Vucevic, lost leading scorer Aaron Afflalo late in the first quarter with a strained right hamstring.

The Thunder beat the Magic by 13 points last Friday in Oklahoma City.

NOTES: Vucevic missed his second consecutive game, but the team changed dramatically its reasoning for him not being available to play Friday. The Magic had said he missed Wednesday's game in New York because of the flu, but coach Jacque Vaughn said Friday that Vucevic had a "mild concussion." He sustained it Monday in a loss at Indiana when he was hit in the face by Roy Hibbert. Vucevic was examined by a team doctor Friday afternoon. He had played in the team's first 68 games. ... Magic rookie Kyle O'Quinn got his first start of the season Friday, replacing Vucevic. He was the fourth rookie to start a game for the Magic this season. It was a year ago when O'Quinn first became recognized nationally at the NCAA Tournament, leading his 15th-seeded Norfolk State Spartans to a stunning upset over No. 2 seed Missouri. O'Quinn had 26 points and 14 rebounds in that game, which he believes was key in getting the attention of NBA scouts. "It got me here," he said. ... Oklahoma City still has a comfortable lead in the Northwest Division, but the Thunder are getting nervous about their inability to beat the three other top teams in the Western Conference. The Thunder are 3-7 this season against San Antonio, Denver and Memphis. The Thunder also lost both games they played against Miami, the defending NBA champions. . . . . The Thunder came into Friday night having shot just 19.5 percent from 3-point range in the previous three games.
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