The Thunder escaped with the win in Sacramento, but after the game is all said and done, three things stick out in my mind:
1. The Thunder cannot continue to rely on Kevin Durant (or Russell Westbrook) alone to carry them through the fourth quarter.
Now, Durant had a lot of opportunities, and that's fine. He's the hot hand, and you feed the hot hand. But when he starts to draw double teams and things aren't looking so hot, you've got to have a second or third guy to go to. We can't resort to Eric Maynor and James Harden throwing up contested threes if they aren't going to go down.
2. The Thunder need to cut down on stupid mistakes.
This one is self-explanatory. Two three second calls within three minutes of each other? Goaltending calls? Three technicals? Lobs that don't even have a chance? I know that mistakes happen, but the Thunder are really showing their youth
3. The officiating in this game is the worst I have seen it this year.
In three years of blogging about the Thunder, I have only complained about the officiating once. And that was when a obvious foul on Kevin Durant at the end of a important game was given a no call. (Link here.) So bear with me if you've heard people complain about the officials a thousand times. First of all, the officials called four technicals in this game. If that wasn't high enough, the Thunder were given three of those technicals, which were all given to three separate players at separate times. And if that wasn't enough, the Thunder have only had two technicals called against them in this entire season.
Below: Why the Technicals Were Called, Why it was B.S., Full Quarter-by-Quarter Recap, Awards!
All of the technicals called weren't because the Thunder broke out in a fight. They were due to Russell Westbrook talking to the official in a calm way, Serge Ibaka accidentally bumping into DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Maynor saying, "Comeon Man! Something something something." (As I heard it from the on-court mic, anyway.) And I'm not trying to be biased towards the Thunder here. Tyreke Evans was also called for a technical after missing out on a steal and jumping around a couple of times in frustration. It's almost as if the refs were calling technicals for players showing any negative emotion at all.
The calling of the regular game was questionable, but I'm not even going to get into that. I know that the refs have a "no tolerance" policy for complaining about calls this season, but the refs tonight took it too far. The refs aren't there to treat the players like they're grade school kids playing a rec game. If anything, by calling all of these stupid technicals, the refs actually invited conflict, rather than deterring it. And if the whole point of a technical foul is undermined, then what is the point of its existence? That's all I have to say.
On to the recap....
The game didn't start well for the Thunder. The Kings were constantly driving to the rim and finding continued success, while the Thunder frequently missed jumpers. But quickly, the game turned into a high-intensity scoring battle, with both teams finding their own ways to score. The Thunder's defense finally started to show towards the end of the quarter, with a key defensive stop leading to a half court bomb by Eric Maynor, putting the Thunder ahead by 3 going into the second quarter and giving them their first lead.
When the Kings had to give minutes to their second unit, their flair was gone. They committed lots of turnovers, and couldn't get to the basket. But the Thunder could never get a commanding lead, because whenever it looked like Thunder were close to closing the door, they would make a few stupid mistakes and the Kings would come right back into the game. Fortunately, the Thunder came alive at the end of the second, starting with a Kevin Durant four point play and ending with a couple of easy scores from Russell Westbrook and Nenad Krstic. The end result was a 9 point lead that the Thunder could hopefully capitalize on in the third.
Instead, they tread water. They found success on offense, but the third quarter was a huge hackfest, and the Kings found ways to get to the line and keep the game level at about a 11 point deficit. Things took a turn for the worse though when Westbrook was called for a technical foul, Sefolosha was called for goaltending, and the Thunder's offense went down the tubes. The Kings went on an 8 point run, and the Thunder never really restored things to the way they were. The Kings battled their way to the brink of tying the game back up, but a technical foul on Tyreke Evans pushed the game back in the Thunder's favour for a short while. But before you knew it, the pace of the game was pushed up again by the Kings, allowing them to flourish and push the deficit back to three.
But in the fourth, the Thunder knew what to do. Great defensive play led to a 13 point lead early that would have been 15 had there not been two more technical fouls called for puzzling reasons. The Kings eventually found their stride and hit a few jumpers, but five jumpers by Kevin Durant kept the Thunder on top of a narrow lead. But Tyreke Evans decided to duplicate Durant's efforts, going on a scoring charge of his own and willing the team to within two points, while the Thunder were charged with a three second call, missed a couple of threes, and missed a couple of free throws. And you know who missed those free throws that would have sealed the game? Kevin Durant. Five seconds to go, Kings have the ball with a two point deficit to overcome. The ball goes in to Reggie Evans, who creates for himself a long, if reasonable three point shot. It looks like it's going to go in, but it clanks off the front of the rim and Jeff Green gets the rebound. The Thunder escape with a victory once again.
We see the Kings twice more this season, and hopefully the next two meetings will be much more easily won than the one we just saw. The win helps keep the Thunder at the top of the Northwest, while the loss for the Kings sets them back in the race not to be worst in the West.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 35 Points (fittingly), 6 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 2 Blocks. He had a terrible third quarter, but his fourth quarter performance more than makes up for it, even with the missed free throws.
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, 0 Points, 2 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 1 Steal, 1 Block. Nick Collison's defense was invaluable tonight, and while it might not show on the stat sheet, the +21 +/- Ratio says it all.
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, 0-3 Shooting, 1 Rebound, 1 Foul. Blew his chance tonight. If you can't score against the Kings, you're toast. He's not alone, though: Eric Maynor failed to distribute and missed a couple of key threes, James Harden went 0-4 from beyond the arc, Nenad Krstic didn't capitalize on the Kings' lack of defense well enough, Thabo Sefolosha might as well have not been there, and Jeff Green was Mr. Triple Singles. In all reality, there's lots of blame to go around.
Thunder Plunderer: Tyreke Evans, 30 Points, 9 Rebounds, 4 Assists. Not a perfect night, but his single-handed charge at victory in the fourth was something to behold. This dude is special.
Next Game: At the Golden State Warriors, Sunday, February 15th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.