On Tuesday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder strolled into Sleep Train Arena for a matchup with the Sacramento Kings. A bunch of big names were sitting out for this one, with the Kings missing Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and Reggie Evans while Russell Westbrook sat out for the team in blue. The one notable absence from the injury report was Thabo Sefolosha, who finally made his return to the starting lineup after missing 17 games with a calf injury.
The Thunder stormed out to a 9-0 lead in the first 1:50 of the first quarter, and for a moment, it felt like it was going to be one of those nights. However, the Kings called a quick timeout and came back looking much more determined. DeMarcus Cousins preyed upon Kendrick Perkins from the high post and Travis Outlaw played like Kevin Durant, the two combining for 22 of Sacramento's 27 first-quarter points. For the Thunder, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka looked just as comfortable scoring the ball while Reggie Jackson was knocking down outside shots with confidence. That kept them ahead of the Kings by a 30-27 margin as the first quarter came to a close.
The three-pointers kept coming in the second quarter, all from the red hot hand of one Caron Butler who connected on four triples. Cousins kept rolling and eventually achieved a first-half double-double, dominating in every mode of attack whether it was from the post or through midrange jumpers. Many of the shots looked awfully difficult, but he wasn't fazed by the Thunder's defense as he kept scoring and scoring more. However, none of Cousins' teammates kept pace with him and the Thunder were able to open up a 61-49 lead heading into halftime.
In the third quarter, first-quarter Outlaw returned to join the still-going DMC. They quickly cut the lead down to as few as three points as the Thunder faltered a bit, but a late quarter surge from the Thunder's usual suspects all but negated that. An 14-0 run from the second unit to start the fourth quarter sealed the deal for good, and the Thunder coasted the rest of the way to a 107-92 win. In fact, Kevin Durant never had had to check back in, and his streak of scoring 25 points ended at 41 games. He finished with 23 points in 31 minutes (tying for the team-high with Caron Butler).
The Kings were led by 24 points apiece from Cousins and Outlaw, both of whom were very impressive tonight. One more statistical anecdote was the Thunder's zero-turnover performance in the first half. That was a franchise record, and it's a pleasant sight from a team that has struggled with turnovers for most of the season. The Thunder finished with six turnovers.
In Sefolosha's return, he went 0-for-2 from the field while sinking both of his free throw attempts for two points. There wasn't anything particularly impressive about his 15-minute return to the lineup tonight, but he's never been one for flair anyway. It's good to have him back in the lineup, with the playoffs a week away.
What is your initial reaction to this result?
For moments, the game might've been closer than a Thunder-Kings matchup ought to be, even with Westbrook out. That said, the Thunder were threatening to turn the game into a blowout even when the game started, and it took an incredible effort from DeMarcus Cousins and Travis Outlaw for the Kings to hang around the way they did. Even with their performance, the game was over by the start of the fourth quarter and the Thunder took care of business nicely.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
In the end, the Kings didn't have the talent to keep up. The absence of Thomas and Gay were felt, as even 20+ points from both Cousins and Outlaw weren't enough to completely prevent a blowout. Credit the Thunder for limiting the rest of the team, which features surprisingly good but possibly overworked rookie Ray McCallum, workhorse Jason Thompson, and last year's 7th overall pick, Ben McLemore. That's clearly not the most impressive group of players, but the Thunder held them to a combined 9-of- 31 and that was enough to secure the lopsided win.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Thunder shot 54.5% from three, making 12-of-22. Butler made all six of his three-point attempts, aided by Durant, Jackson and Jeremy Lamb whom each finished with a pair of threes. The three-pointers were often the swinging factor that pushed the game back towards the Thunder's favor whenever Sacramento threatened the lead, and their performance from beyond the arc was too difficult for the Kings to overcome. Sacramento shot 3-for-14 (21.4%) from deep, a far cry from the Thunder's prolific shooting.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The San Antonio Spurs lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight, leaving the Thunder three and a half games behind for the first seed in the West. It's probably wishful thinking for the Thunder to wrest pole position from the Spurs with just five games left on the schedule, though. Instead, the Thunder will have their hands full keeping the second seed out of the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, who are now a game and a half back of the Thunder. Tomorrow's game against the Clippers, which Westbrook will play in, will be very important in how that plays out.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 23 points (8/13 shooting), 2 three-pointers, 4 rebounds, 4 assists
Thunder Down Under: Caron Butler - 23 points (8/10 shooting), 6 three-pointers, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Thunder Blunder: Nobody tonight! The bench had some poor moments, especially in the second quarter, but they made up for it with the 14-0 fourth quarter run and everyone finished with a pretty enough stat line.
Thunder Plunderer: DeMarcus Cousins - 24 points (10/24 shooting), 14 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 steals, 2 blocks
Next game: @ Los Angeles Clippers (9:30 PM CMT)