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Kings 92, Thunder 103: Shorthanded Kings Compete, But the Better Team Prevailed

April 20, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks dribbles the basketball against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at Power Balance Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
April 20, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks dribbles the basketball against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at Power Balance Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings have a few parallels, mainly in the fact that they're both very young and mainly built their team through the draft. The Thunder are a few years ahead of us in the process, just three years removed from having the worst record in the NBA. They jumped to 50 wins from 22 in a year, and just two years later are now looked at as legitimate title contenders and owners of the 2nd best record in the West. Despite their youth, they played like a veteran team last night against the Kings.

Sacramento was without leading scorer Marcus Thornton, and for anyone who thinks Marcus doesn't mean a lot to this team, think again. The Kings offense faltered without Marcus on the court, and it's no surprise to me that the Kings have won just one game without Marcus this year. Sacramento ended up shooting just 40.9% from the floor with 20 assists to 12 turnovers.

The Thunder meanwhile shot slightly over 53%, and were around 60% for much of the game. Kevin Durant scored what seemed like an effortless 29 points in 38 minutes, to go with 14 rebounds and 7 assists. Russell Westbrook added 18 points and 3 assists (5 turnovers) and James Harden came in off the bench and added 20.

The Kings were led in scoring by DeMarcus Cousins' 18 points (he also had 9 rebounds and 2 steals), but Cousins was stymied inside all night and had to do most of his damage from the perimeter. He shot just 8 of 21 from the field. The Thunder did a marvelous job of protecting the paint, allowing just 38 points from Sacramento in there. Tyreke Evans barely got inside at all, but in a nice change of pace, most of his 16 points came from all jumpers. Jason Thompson had 13 points and 8 rebounds, Isaiah Thomas had 12 points and 4 assists, and Jimmer Fredette chipped in 11 points to round out the Kings' double-digit scorers.

Keith Smart made the decision to start Travis Outlaw at Small Forward last night. I'm guessing the idea was to match up Durant with a similarly sized Small Forward. It didn't work, on either end of the court. Outlaw didn't have much success on defense (not many people do against Durant) and on offense he added 1 point on 6 shots in 28 minutes. Donté Greene, who has guarded Durant in the past and by all statistical values is a better player than Outlaw, played 0 minutes. It was a peculiar time for Smart to stick with a tight rotation, particularly when we had Outlaw and the very undersized Francisco Garcia trying to stop Durant.

Smart addressed the decision on Outlaw as basically a reward for his hard work throughout the season in practice. I have no problem with that, considering we have nothing to lose. I still would have liked to see at least a few minutes of Greene when Durant is ripping us apart.

The Kings got off to a great start in this game, jumping out to an early lead midway through the first quarter. Scott Brooks called a timeout, gathered his troops, and it wasn't the same from then on. The Thunder defense stepped up big time, and it wasn't even a minute later that the Kings 17-12 lead had changed to a 17-18 deficit.

The Kings managed to keep it relatively close throughout the game, but for every run they made, they could never get it closer that 3 or 4 points before Oklahoma City would come roaring back with a big run themselves. Part of it had to do with sloppy execution on the Kings part and poor decision making. A lot of it had to do with the excellent Thunder defense packing the paint. The Kings are not a good perimeter team, especially without Marcus Thornton. Jimmer Fredette is our next best threat from outside, and he was just 1 of 5 from the three point arc.

Chuck Hayes had a surprisingly well-rounded game. He scored 7 points on some nifty takes to the basket, grabbed 6 boards, dished 5 assists (including a beautiful weave through two Thunder players to a cutting Garcia) and had 2 steals. These are the types of efforts we need to see from Chuck more consistently.

Terrence Williams forced it a little bit on offense when he was in, shooting 8 shots in 15 minutes and making just two. I still love his court vision though he did have just 2 assists to 2 turnovers. No Kings player had more than 2 turnovers. In fact, turnovers were a big part of what kept the Kings in the game. The Thunder were pretty sloppy all night, turning the ball over 17 times. However the Kings were only able to score 14 points off those turnovers compared to 20 Thunder points off of the Kings 12 turnovers.

Francisco Garcia had a pretty good game off the bench, with 9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a couple blocks in 24 minutes. Cisco spent a lot of the time trying to guard Kevin Durant and James Harden, and that was a lost cause from the beginning. Harden, who supposedly had concerns about his athleticism in his draft, made Garcia look like a statue at one point as he blew by him for a flying slam.

All in all, it was a good effort from a Kings team that probably had no business keeping it as close as it was. Sacramento has just three games remaining, starting with a visit to the worst team in the NBA on Sunday, the Charlotte Bobcats.

Random Observations:

  • It was also Fan Appreciation night, my first that I've attended. There were a lot of giveaways and contests during about every break. Some of the giveaways were actually good too, like flatscreen televisions and game consoles. They almost had to give away a truck too, because the guy who took the halfcourt shot would have swished it if he gave it just a little more power. Every fan got a poster featuring everyone on the team as well.
  • NBA legend Oscar Robertson was in attendance and he got a huge standing ovation from the crowd when he was announced.
  • The Maloofs were at their courtside seats next to Robertson and had a couple of children sitting with them. Human shelds much? There were a smattering of boos the one time the Maloofs appeared on the jumbotron to present a check, but nothing big. If they had gotten up to speak, I feel it would have been different.
  • Smattering of anti-Maloof and Pro-Arena signs throughout as well. The Lady next to me had a sign saying: "Seattle Sonics + No Arena = OKC Thunder. Sacramento Kings + No Arena = Seattle Sonics. WE WILL BUILD IT". Also saw a sign saying "Trade the Maloofs". Much more reserved than I would have thought though (this was my first game in attendance since the deal fell through)
  • Isaiah blew by Russell Westbrook several times last night. I almost feel like Isaiah should look for his offense even more than he does sometimes.
  • Tyreke's jumper looked surprisingly good most of the night as I mentioned. They weren't spot-up shots either, but off the dribble and mid-range pull-ups.
  • Despite excellent Thunder interior D, Kings missed a bunch of easy shots inside. Cuz missed a dink that rimmed out and led to a breakaway dunk for the Thunder instead.
  • Lottery Watch: The Cavaliers beat the Knicks to put themselves at 21 wins with 4 games remaining. The Hornets didn't play last night but now have the exact same record as the Kings due to the loss.
  • Isaiah had an off-the-backboard dunk in the pre-game warmups that was pretty fun, but it was made even funnier by the fact that Chuck tried to follow it up with his own dunk and he couldn't do it.

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