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Kings 110, Thunder 118: Shorthanded Kings Make a Game of it, But Collapse Late

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In what was possibly the most entertaining loss of the season, a hobbled Kings team came into Oklahoma City and gave one of the best teams in the NBA a lot of trouble. Sacramento was without Marcus Thornton, Terrence Williams and John Salmons and still managed to lead for most of the game. Oklahoma City had their own injury concerns, missing James Harden to a World Peace-induced concussions. The Thunder rallied back to win the game in the fourth quarter thanks to the play of their bench, in particularly Daequan Cook, who scored 19 points, all in the fourth quarter.

DeMarcus Cousins was the man for Sacramento, scoring 32 points (his 3rd game of 30+ this season) to go with 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and a block with just 3 fouls in 35 minutes. Cousins was set to miss this game due to suspension for getting his 13th technical of the season last Sunday against Charlotte, but the team successfully appealed the technical to the league and got it rescinded.

The Kings offense was almost wholly carried by the starting lineup. All but 7 points were scored by starters, who all finished in double figures, with three over 20 points. Jason Thompson had 22 points on just 11 shots, thanks to his excellent touch around the basket and great movement off the ball to get right to the rim. Travis Outlaw started once again for the injured Marcus Thornton, and followed up a good performance against the Bobcats with his greatest outing of the season: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals and 2 blocks in 33 and a half minutes. We're used to Travis going entire weeks without totaling those numbers. Tyreke Evans almost reached 20 points himself, finishing at 18, and Isaiah Thomas scored 11 points on a tough shooting night (just 3 of 10), but did have 9 assists to just 2 turnovers.

Oklahoma City was led in scoring by Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points, all in the first three quarters. Outlaw probably tried the hardest, but there is literally nobody on this team that can stop Durant or even try. The main problem was not Durant's shooting ability (he was just 7 of 19 from the field) but the fact that nobody could stop him without fouling. Durant went to the line for 16 of Oklahoma City's 33 free throw attempts, and the Thunder as a team converted an astounding 91.1% of them, missing just two.

The real hero for Oklahoma City though was their fourth quarter bench rotation of Daequan Cook, Royal Ivey, Derek Fisher, Cole Aldrich, and Nick Collison. They took the Thunder from what was a 4 point deficit heading into the final period and ended up with the 8 point victory, outscoring the Kings 36 to 24 in the fourth. As mentioned, Cook was phenomenal, scoring 19 in the quarter, including four three pointers. He also got fouled shooting three pointers twice, getting a four point play once (he missed the FT attempt though). The Kings also managed to foul Derek Fisher on a three point shot as well, so that's about 6 unnecessary points that were given up at the line. Fisher was the one who really closed the game for the Thunder, getting 5 huge points in a row (including that fouled three pointer) and a dish to Cook for a three that essentially was the dagger.

Sacramento jumped off to an incredible start in the game, seemingly making every shot at will. DeMarcus Cousins and Travis Outlaw were carrying the load offensively, while Durant was singlehandedly keeping the Thunder in it. The Kings ended up scoring 40 points in the first quarter after Isaiah Thomas nailed a triple that he let off with 0.1 seconds left, giving the Kings a five point lead. The Kings shot an amazing 18 of 22 from the field in the first quarter.

Obviously that couldn't carry on forever and the scoring for both sides dramatically decreased in the second quarter as both teams stepped it up a bit defensively and the bench units for both teams couldn't really find the same rhythm. The Kings almost managed to lose the lead entirely, with Chuck Hayes throwing an incredibly lazy pass to Isaiah Thomas with 0.7 seconds left in the half that Russell Westbrook picked off and took in for a layup. Fortunately for the Kings, Westbrook's shot was waved off as time had expired.

That second quarter was the one in which the Kings benched featured most prominently, but it wasn't the only time they were in the game. For as good as the starters played, the bench performed terribly in their time on the floor. Francisco Garcia played the most of all of the bench unit at about 17 minutes, and contribute a mere 3 points, 1 block, and 2 fouls, one of which was one of the stupid fouls on a three point shooter. I wonder if Cisco's boneheadedness is what happens when a veteran has essentially played his entire NBA career on a bad team. Chuck Hayes played 12 minutes off the bench, and without a real threat for him to guard, he wasn't all that great either, and I'm probably being a bit nice there. He had just 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, 2 turnovers and 3 fouls, while also repeatedly giving up second chance opportunities due to his height. Chuck Hayes CANNOT be the only big man on the floor. It really hurts the Kings rebounding, where they were beaten by Oklahoma City by a 43 to 34 margin despite having more rebounding opportunities.

The second half began with the Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins show. Evans would drive to the basket and score or get to the line, or he'd find Cousins for an easy shot or dunk. Together they combined for the Kings first 14 points of the half, and the Kings got out to as much as a 13 point lead midway through the third quarter after Travis Outlaw hit a pair of free throws. Kevin Durant must have taken this as a personal affront because he scored 11 points from then on to help get the Thunder back into the game. The Kings were able to weather the storm a little bit, and managed to hold onto a slim lead for the final quarter.

Scott Brooks made the interesting decision to stick with his bench for the remainder of the game. I don't know if this was a conscious decision since the Thunder had already locked up the 2nd spot in the West, or if Brooks meant to merely play the bench for a little while and then stuck with them when they got hot. Whatever the reason, it ended up working. Maybe Brooks realized the Kings get hyped up to play against good teams, so lowered his talent level to that of a non-playoff team, sucking the fighting, underdog spirit out of the Kings.

Sacramento's lead didn't last long as Daequan Cook scored 5 straight for Oklahoma City, giving the Thunder the lead for the first time since the first quarter. The Kings took the lead back, but Cook hit yet another three to tie it, and then was fouled by Francisco Garcia while shooting a three to give the Thunder a three point lead after hitting the free throws.

After increasing the lead to four, Sacramento hit a couple shots, including Francisco Garcia's lone field goal to put the Kings back up for what would be the last time in the game. Derek Fisher got right into the lane, not for the last time, to put the Thunder back on top, and Nick Collison hit a long spot-up jumper to give the Thunder a three point lead and the backing of Lawler's Law.

DeMarcus Cousins did his best to keep the Kings in it, driving inside on Cole Aldrich and Nick Collison, who both did as good a job as one could hope for on Cousins, but it still wasn't enough to stop DeMarcus from scoring and getting to the line several times.

After Isaiah Thomas took it to the basket and got fouled, the lead was cut to just 1 point with 1:52 remaining. The Kings did a good job of pressuring the Thunder to use most of the clock, and the Thunder had a clear out up top with Derek Fisher and Tyreke Evans. Fisher pulled up for three and was lightly clipped on the elbow by Tyreke, a stupid foul in a game full of them. Fisher nailed all three free throws to put the Thunder up four once more, but there was still hope for the Kings as DeMarcus Cousins nailed the layup attempt at the other end.

Fisher took it right through the Kings defense for a tough layup of his own to make it a four point game once more. Then after DeMarcus Cousins missed a well contested shot inside, Fisher pushed it up the floor and found Daequan Cook in the corner for a contested three that he of course nailed. This put the Thunder up 7 with just 44 seconds left, and what miniscule chance the Kings had of getting back in it ended when Isaiah Thomas missed his own three point attempt and DeMarcus made just 1 of 2 free throws after being fouled on the putback.

I really loved the effort, heart and determination showed by our young team tonight. For most of the night, they looked like the team that was preparing for the playoffs, and this was all coming despite being without several key contributors. There have been so many flashes from this team this year and it just gives me hope for what the future may bring. If the dark cloud of potential relocation wasn't around raining on our collective moods, I'd be really looking forward to what the next few seasons bring.

Random Observations:

  • Isaiah's excellent assist to turnover ratio was mentioned on the telecast today. For the season prior to this game, he has an excellent 2.5:1.0 Assist to Turnover ratio. For those who remember me trumpeting Isaiah in last year's draft, my main reason was the fact that he was second to Darius Morris of all projected draftees in assists and assist to turnover ratio. It didn't hurt that he could also create his own offense. Both attributes have carried over into the NBA.
  • Jason Thompson runs the court as well as any big man can. His teammates are also doing a great job of finding him and rewarding his hustle. If DeMarcus Cousins was in the shape Jason Thompson is in, I shudder to think about the possibilities. I don't think it's a matter of if the Kings keep JT this summer, but instead how much it will cost them.
  • Ok. 40,000 Zillerbucks to the person who gets me a GIF of Jerry Reynolds dancing at the end of the 2nd quarter. It's but a second or two, but a GIF lasts forever.
  • If you're unsure whether LeBron James or Kevin Durant is your MVP, give LeBron an edge for not having Travis Outlaw have his best game of the season on him.
  • Is it just me or is DeMarcus shying away from taking charges lately? It seems he hasn't had one in a while.
  • Fisher was a great pickup for the Thunder. He really adds a reliable veteran for the bench that thrives under pressure, perfect in a playoff setting.
  • Scot Pollard as Color Commentator when Jerry Reynolds retires. Yay or nay?
  • Tyreke is taking, and making, more perimeter shots as of late. Is it genuine improvement or simply a fluke? Leaning towards a little bit of both.
  • Serge Ibaka only played 20 minutes tonight and had but 1 block. In his 3 other contests against the Kings, he had 25. That's insane. Another insane Ibaka stat? He's only 10 blocks away from tying the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team.
  • Daequan Cook wins tonight's "Brandon Rush" award, the award given to the random role player who kills the Kings. Who are other nominees you can think of from this year? Jason Smith comes to mind.
  • If this is a legitimate flash of what Travis Outlaw can bring nightly, bring it on. He essentially played exactly the way the Kings have wanted their Small Forward to play for the last three years now. But is it a return to form from his Portland days, or a mere Ike Diogu-like end of season blip? I guess we'll see.
  • The last time I saw Cole Aldrich was when he worked out for the Kings in the very same workout that Hassan Whiteside shined in. He looks like he can eventually take the torch from Nick Collison as that effective roleplayer big for OKC.

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