That was absolutely amazing. With all the hype going into the game beforehand and the fact that Oklahoma City was the best team in the league, this was a night that seemed like it could have been ripe for disappointment. But it lived up to all the hype and more as the Kings pulled out the victory over the Thunder.
In many ways, this game was a parallel to last year, and the efforts to keep the Kings from moving to Anaheim. Not many people thought that Sacramento would succeed in keeping the team here, just as not many expected the Kings to win tonight. In both cases, the fans indirectly influenced the outcome by showing their support. The grassroots movements last year spurred Mayor Johnson and the city to action to begin the process of saving this team and keeping it here, and tonight the sellout crowd energized the players all night long. In the end, that support was rewarded with victory, improbable as it may have seemed.
The Kings as a team didn't have a single individual who truly stood out as the hero of this game. It was a team effort all around, with every player on the court making a meaningful contribution. The Kings were also relentless and fearless attacking the basket tonight, scoring 60 points in the paint. That's despite the efforts of Serge Ibaka, who had 10 of Oklahoma City's 17 blocks. Tyreke Evans led the Kings with 22 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals. The Kings also had 21 assists to just 12 turnovers, half of those occurring in the first quarter, meaning they took better care of the ball as the game went along. The bench also outscored Oklahoma City's bench 34-19.
Oklahoma City had big production from their main weapons. Kevin Durant had 27 points on 9-19 from the field, James Harden had 17 on 5-11 from the field, and Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 33 on 15-26 from the field. That's over three-quarters of the Thunder's points coming from three guys. Those three players also combined for 15 turnovers though (Westbrook had 7 himself) and that was a big problem for the Thunder. They had just 13 assists to 23 turnovers, as the Kings defense did a good job of deflecting and swiping at the ball all night.
The game was competitive throughout. Neither side really ever got out to a super comfortable lead, with the greatest lead by the Kings being 9 points and 8 points for Oklahoma City. That 9 point lead for Sacramento came as the team got off to their first great start in a while, starting the game off with an 11-2 run in the first 3 minutes. After a timeout, the Thunder came out with their own 13-1 run and it was off to the races.
The first half, particularly the 2nd quarter, saw Sacramento's bench make a big impact. DeMarcus Cousins picked up 3 early fouls in the 1st quarter, and was replaced by Chuck Hayes. Donté Greene, J.J. Hickson, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette joined Hayes early on in the 2nd quarter, and that was the lineup that managed to maintain the first quarter lead. Hayes had his best scoring night as a Sacramento King, scoring 8 points on 4-6 shooting, all of which came in the 2nd quarter. With Cousins out, that was a big plus for Hayes to step in like that.
Jason Thompson also did a good job in Cousins' absence, particularly rebounding and passing the ball. JT has done a very good job as of late at finding cutters, and it's clear that there are designed plays for JT to do this. JT had a nice bounce-back game after a couple of disappointing performances, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Donté Greene led the bench with 10 points on 4 shots (he went 5-6 from the line). He also chipped in 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in just 16 minutes. His defense on Kevin Durant was about as good as you can get against a scorer of Durant's caliber, particularly down the stretch.
J.J. Hickson added 4 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks in his 9 minutes off the bench. Jimmer Fredette came in and played like a point guard, distributing the ball very nicely. He finished with 5 points and 4 assists. Isaiah Thomas brought the energy as usual, and while his only statistical contribution was 7 points, he played some very good defense.
The 3rd quarter saw Oklahoma City come out of the gates strong, Russell Westbrook in particular. Westbrook scored 16 of his points in the quarter, hitting shot after shot. Westbrook isn't known as a particularly good jump shooter, but he didn't look like he was having much of an issue during this stretch. The Kings were able to weather the storm though and finished the quarter on a 6-1 run, cutting the Thunder lead to just two heading into the final, pivotal quarter.
The 4th quarter started off much the same as the third, with the Thunder looking to wrest momentum away from the Kings and seal the victory. At the 5:56 mark, Kevin Durant passed to Daequan Cook in the corner for a three to cap off a 17-7 run by the Thunder, giving them a 95-87 lead, their largest of the game.
The Kings weren't quite dead yet. At this point, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and Donté Greene came back into the game. Thornton had been quiet all night, but featured heavily in the rest of the quarter. After getting the ball stolen away from him by Westbrook, Thornton stayed with him in transition and managed to block the layup attempt, returning possession to the Kings. Tyreke took it the other way and laid it up off the glass, allowing Donté to come in and mop-up.
Durant then missed a three and Marcus took it all the way to the basket, and had his layup attempt blocked once more by Serge Ibaka. Lo and behold though, this wasn't a clean block, it was goaltending, and Marcus' layup counted. The Kings managed a stop on the other end and tried the same thing again, this time with Tyreke Evans, but this time Ibaka really did get the block and Westbrook was off to the races. DeMarcus Cousins was back however and set up good position, easily drawing the charge.
The next couple of possessions were sloppy on both sides, and neither team managed to score until Tyreke Evans found Marcus Thornton at the three point line. Thornton nailed the three and cut Oklahoma City's lead to just one point with 2:45 remaining. Kevin Durant answered right back with a jumper of his own, but not to be denied, Marcus Thornton got open in the corner and hit yet another three to tie the game at 97.
The Thunder tried going to Durant again, but this time Sacramento's defense forced a bad pass that led to a backcourt violation. The Kings got it inside to DeMarcus Cousins, and while he missed his first attempt, he got the ball back and managed to get fouled by Ibaka, earning a trip to the line. The foul was Ibaka's 5th, a huge one considering his impact on the defensive side of the ball for the Thunder. DeMarcus only converted one free throw, but did manage to give the Kings a 98-97 lead with 1:37 left. The lead was short lived however, as Westbrook quickly brought it up and hit another jumper, giving the Thunder the lead right back.
On the ensuing possession, the Kings found Donté in the corner. Rather than shoot it, Donté drove to the basket and managed to draw the critical 6th foul on Serge Ibaka. To put the cherry on top, he also hit both of his free throws, and Sacramento led 100-99 with just over a minute left. The excitement and tension in the arena was a palpable, living thing at this point. The Kings had a real chance to win it if they maintained their composure and kept up the pressure on the defensive end.
That's exactly what they did too. Coming out of the timeout, Kevin Durant had trouble finding room to operate, so he kicked the ball out to Westbrook in the corner, as Tyreke Evans came to double Durant. Westbrook was open but opted to drive, but as he started his drive his heel went out of bounds and it was another Thunder turnover. On the opposite end, with no Ibaka on the court, Evans took it straight to the basket, getting fouled by James Harden in the process. With Evans heading to the line, chants of "M-V-P" began to break out. Those quickly died out as he rimmed out the first attempt, but all was forgiven when the second one fell through. The Kings now had a two point lead with under a minute remaining.
The Thunder didn't waste much time, and Kevin Durant launched a straight away three pointer from the top of the key that just missed off the back iron. DeMarcus Cousins snatched up the rebound and immediately was fouled, accompanied by a thunderous roar from the crowd. These free throws by DeMarcus would make it a two possession game. Cousins had only gone 1 for 2 on his last attempt, but easily sank both of these, making it 103-99 with 27 seconds left. Despite the early foul trouble, Cousins finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, a block, and two huge drawn charges.
Scott Brooks drew up a play for Russell Westbrook to attack the basket coming out of the timeout. As he began his attempt, the referees called a foul on Marcus Thornton. It was Sacramento's foul to give, but also Marcus's 6th foul. He finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block. 10 of those points came in the 4th quarter.
Coach Smart went with Isaiah Thomas as Thornton's replacement, knowing Thomas would have to guard the much bigger Westbrook. Isaiah did a great job of staying in front and pressuring Westbrook, and Westbrook ended up losing control of the ball out of bounds. The referees needed to review it, and the replay confirmed it was Sacramento ball. Victory was almost assured as long as the team could hit their free throws, and the crowd knew it.
The Kings did hit their free throws, and after Kevin Durant's last 28 foot three point attempt rimmed out and was snatched up by Tyreke Evans, the arena exploded in jubilation. Free Tacos! The win is nice too.
All in all, it was a fantastic night for the Kings, their fans, and the city of Sacramento. I was extremely proud of our team's effort, and to everyone who came out to support the team. Magical nights like this are why we've been fighting so hard this past year.