This was just a regular Thunder blowout, until....
ISAIAH THOMAS SCORED 23 POINTS IN THE FOURTH QUARTER!!!!
I know that he's on the opposing team, but man, you've got to admire that guy's gall. With the Kings down by as much as 21 in the fourth, he just refused to quit. He drained three after three after three when the Kings needed it most, bringing the deficit to within 5 with 3 minutes to go. Eventually, the Thunder starters had to come back on the floor and seal the deal. It wasn't like the Thunder were letting him by easily, either. He was just draining insanely deep triples, and firing them off way too quickly.
Despite his Herculean effort, the Kings eventually went down in the face of some late game scoring from Serge Ibaka. To be clear, the Thunder offense wasn't having huge problems. They had a few bad turnovers and succumbed to perimeter pressure, but in general the Kings post defense was pourous, and the Thunder were able to capitalize on it.
The Kings were having some clear defensive problems earlier in the game, too. Their strategy seemed to be that of the Lakers in their 2010 first round playoff series against the Thunder. STAY AWAY FROM SEFOLOSHA! It was like the man had some horrible disease! He was able to shoot a ton of wide open threes, and he even nailed a Dirk-like turnaround.
If that wasn't enough, the Kings were horrible when it came to guarding Durant, as well. Despite his being the NBA's top scorer, they left him with open shots and dunks. Even when Durant was covered, it seemed like he was able to consistently draw mismatches with someone who was too short or too tall.
On the flip side, the Kings were rather effective at guarding Ibaka and Westbrook, who both struggled a little bit offensively. Ibaka hit his stride at the very end of the game, but he had trouble getting clear shots against the quicker Kings defenders. Westbrook's case is a bit murkier, because he blew two open layups at the rim. Still, it was clear that he forced a couple of shots against the smaller Brooks. Forcing shots against smaller guards seems to be a recurring Westbrook theme this season. My best guess as to why it's occurring is the lack of transition mid-range jumpers for him to take, and the feeling that he needs to get shots off. It's not a huge problem, but it can get a bit frustrating when Westbrook struggles against poor defensive teams.
You might note Kevin Martin's bad shooting percentage, but the truth is, he just wasn't executing. If he had knocked down his open shots like he usually does, he would have had a 30 point game, easily. Just an off-night for him, really.
But my overarching point is that the Kings are just a mess. I hate to bash on them because Kings fans are suffering enough and well-aware of this fact, but it has to be said. Aside from Isaiah Thomas, their best scorers gave the worst plus-minus rating, because they couldn't defend worth a darn. The Kings got a good number of turnovers with their pressure defense, but their poor defensive rebounding negated that advantage. Similarly, they sustained short runs of offensive success throughout the game, but they'd lay an egg over the next 2-3 minutes, immediately negating any good work they did.
That's not to say defense is the Kings only problem. During the second quarter, the Kings offense was having huge issues of its' own. Aaron Brooks kept getting trapped within the three point line, and nobody seemed to be making great efforts to get open. There was absolutely no inside presence at all without Cousins, and the team just shot themselves into oblivion.
What does this all mean on the Thunder's end? Well, both teams had some serious problems tonight. The Thunder weren't executing on offense and kept sending the Kings to the line, while the Kings played horrible pressure defense and couldn't get the ball moving on offense. The Thunder won on the back of a perfect free throw shooting night, good rebounding, and great closing ability. Sometimes, it's the little things the Thunder do that count towards victory. Isaiah Thomas would have toppled a lesser team.
But from a viewers perspective, this game was really fun to watch. Despite the amount of free throws, the pace of the game was really fast and made for a lot of breakaway dunks and quick, open shots. It's probably a part of the underlying reason that the game was so sloppy on both sides, but this is the kind of basketball that people enjoy watching. I'd much rather watch the Kings than I would the Pacers, despite the Pacers being a whole lot better.
Anyway, our winning streak sits at 10. 24 to go!
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who can't miss.
Thunder Down Under: Thabo Sefolosha, who hit his open shots.
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Martin, just because I know he can do better.
Thunder Plunderer: Isaiah Thomas, who is a better shooter than his namesake.
Next Game: Versus the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, December 17th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.