In a game that came down to the closing seconds, the Thunder were able to overcome the scrappy Sacramento Kings, 98-95. Kevin Durant was able to close the game for OKC in the clutch, scoring on the Thunder's last two possessions. Overall, Durant had a mixed night. On the positive side, there were 20 points on 53% shooting, as well as 10 rebounds. But Durant also had a whopping 10 turnovers, epitomizing the Thunder's problems with moving the ball. Westbrook, on the other hand, was sublime. The numbers won't wow you, but a triple-double with efficient shooting, 3 steals, and only 3 turnovers is extremely impressive. At this point, it's obvious that Westbrook is becoming one of the game's best decision makers on the floor.
On the other end of the floor, the Thunder certainly did a number on DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins shot 5 of 20 on the night, and was completely hounded by the trio of Adams, Kanter, and Ibaka. Defense of Cousins was by committee, and OKC did all they could to keep demarcus away from the basket and add pressure. It was obvious that Cousins was getting frustrated late in the game. My evidence is that Cousins was constantly jawing with the refs, lost a jump ball to Westbrook, and badly missed two clutch free throws.
How did the Thunder win this game?
Well, Kevin Durant had 6 points in the final 1:17. Two of those points came on an intentional foul, while the other four points came on mismatches. Westbrook hit a gutsy pull-up three with 2:47 to go. But really, it was the late game defense that was essential. Sacramento didn't manage to score a single point in the last 2:30 of the game.
Some of that was the Kings' own fault, as Cousins missed a pair of free throws. I also have to credit Westbrook, who successfully fronted DeMarcus Cousins on a switch. But Steven Adams was particularly impressive. Blocking a Rudy Gay Dunk at the rim was Adams first epic manuever. But Adams real victory came with 6 seconds to go. Ibaka had forced Rudy Gay to the floor, forcing Gay to throw the ball up. Adams had the presence of mind to grab the ball. Not only that, but with the Thunder only up by 1, Adams was in danger of getting fouled and taking some important free throws. Thankfully, the situation was avoided when the team called timeout, letting OKC inbound to KD.
Why did the Kings manage to keep it so close?
Turnovers were the issue all night long. The Kings had 18 points off of 21 Thunder turnovers. Due to the absence of Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings were a good bit smaller than they usually are. Rudy Gay spent the entire game at power forward, with Koufos as the only big man off the bench. As a result, the Kings used their superior speed to pressure around screens and trap players.
Also, the Kings were able to get to the line 30 times. 12 of those attempts came during the second quarter. The Thunder were over the limit with 3:23 to go, thanks to a pair of fouls from Singler and Kanter. This allowed the Kings to attack the paint and generate points at the line, arguably keeping them in the game going into the second half.
What's going on with Dion Waiters?
Dion Waiters, oh my gosh. You were 0 of 7 against Atlanta last Tuesday and looked terrible. Then, you were 6 of 9 against the Heat on Friday and looked fantastic. Now, it's Sunday against the Kings, and you shot 2 of 12. To me, it was obvious that Waiters had a matchup with Darren Collison and thought he could get whatever shot he wanted. And, to be fair, Waiters missed a couple of nicely selected shots.
But Waiters only had two assists in 27 minutes of play. Waiters wasn't very involved in the offense, either. Only three of Waiters' shots came on a pass, and two of those were his only makes! The other 9 Waiters shots came from Dion, and that's just too many. Because it leads to situations like the three below, where Dion is running into difficult defense and missing obvious passing options:
Really, I don't want to put everything on Dion. We all know that he's liable for a few difficult shots and passes per game, and he exists to bail the Thunder out of bad shot clock situations. But, as a whole, the bench simply could not move the ball well. In fact, nobody on the bench unit got an assist but Dion.
I'd definitely blame the lack of Nick Collison, who has become an essential screen setter and ball mover for the bench unit. I'd also put some of the blame on the lack of touches for D.J. Augustin, who normally operates well around Kanter screens. The rest of the second unit (Morrow, Singler, Kanter) simply don't have the skillset to move the ball regularly.
"We have to develop consistency off the bench if our whole team is going to evolve." -Billy Donovan, post game
- Serge Ibaka was in foul trouble all night long. A quick string of three fouls in the first 5:25 of the game had Ibaka on the bench for the entire first half. Ibaka had to sit during the middle of the fourth as well, when he had five fouls. But Ibaka put forth an excellent effort in his limited time. I was particularly impressed with a stretch in the middle of the third quarter, when Ibaka hit a jumper on three straight possessions to put the Thunder up by 9. Ibaka also contributed a block on Cousins during that run. Ibaka also had a critical moment late in the fourth, scoring on an offensive rebound when the Thunder were facing their largest deficit (six). Coming in during critical moments seems to be Ibaka's M.O. this year.
- Anthony Morrow played the majority of the second quarter, and was a crucial scorer. Morrow scored a couple of nice floaters when given space during broken plays, and hit a three off of Westbrook. But Morrow didn't see the floor at all during the third, and didn't even get to touch the ball when he played three minutes of the fourth quarter. Honestly, I think it's an unfortunate case of getting lost in the shuffle. And when Waiters is hitting clutch free throws, even on a bad night, it doesn't exactly give a lot of reason to send Morrow out late in the fourth.
- Really liked when Kanter got a one-on-one with Cousins at 7:13 to go in the fourth. Just an amazing drop-step by Enes, allowing him to fly past Cousins for the easy score. Overall a solid night from Kanter, who kept his game mostly in the post and generated a lot of points at the line. The rebounding was also out of this world, as Kanter grabbed 10 boards in 20 minutes while limiting Koufos to just three. Four of the boards were offensive.
- Westbrook had a pretty cunning game, equally distributing his shots between the rim, his cotton shot mid-range zone, and the three point line. Mostly though, Westbrook was an expert at drawing the D and helping the offense work.
- Hilarious wedgie from Andre Roberson
- That pretty much symbolized the whole game for Andre. He had a nice aggressive layup in the third, but ultimately shot 1 of 7 and committed three turnovers. Throughout the game, it seemed as if the Thunder's offense was really struggling specifically because Roberson was wasting possessions. I don't feel like Roberson made any bad decisions really. But Roberson simply can't finish or draw fouls in traffic, and stepped out of bounds with the ball three times. THREE TIMES!
- The Peake had a really strange halftime act. Christopher's been doing this for years, but this was hot on NBA reddit.
- The best Durant dunk of the night
- No appearance from Nick Collison tonight, despite the fact that he's played in the last 11 straight games. Given that the Kings were running James Anderson and Marco Bellinelli at power forward off the bench, it's an understandable decision from Donovan.
- In Collison's place was Kyle Singler, who hadn't seen serious time in the past six games. Singler played his usual stint between quarters, but also managed to get some clutch time due to Ibaka's foul trouble. There were some good moments from singler, like an aggressive offensive board putback for a score, and a steal at the end of the third that led to a Kanter dunk, and a 12 point lead. Ultimately, though, Singler was frustrating. Four fouls in 14 minutes is way too many, and I cringe looking at his open missed corner three during the closing moments.
- Cameron Payne also got time, making his first appearance in three games. The Kings were running with Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo to close the first quarter, so Donovan matched with Payne and Augustin. Payne ended up playing into the second quarter as well. I liked what I saw from Payne, who made good decisions for the entire duration of his run. The execution simply wasn't there, as Payne missed a couple of open shots and overpassed Singler once.
- Reporter: Do you feel like you got an appropriate explanation for Serge's third foul, when he went to the bench with two and they switched the foul to him? Donovan: "The only thing I said to the officials was that I wish they had come over to the bench and told me. Because I went up there and they said that there was some confusion on who the foul was. And I don't think Kevin said he wasn't near the play. So I was told there was one foul on Kevin. And another foul on Serge. Somehow, I don't know what happened. Then I was told in the timeout that Serge had got three fouls, when I thought it was his second."
- Reporter: Is there concern about the way you guys played, what happened in the fourth? Adams: Definitely. No disrespect to the second men, but we were up by like 16 or whatever. And then we just managed to like, lose it. So that's actually why it doesn't feel that good. The way we played. But we'll work on it.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, who can hit a three when it really matters
Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, for strong defense on Cousins and in the closing minutes
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, more points needed
Thunder Plunderer: Marco Bellinelli, who came off the bench to deliver 9 fourth quarter points
Next Game: At the Memphis Grizzlies, Tuesday, December 8th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!