Playing in a nationally televised game without their superstar and only days removed from a shocking coaching change, the Sacramento Kings managed to keep the score close late in the game despite all the recent turmoil - but in the end, the star power of the Oklahoma City Thunder proved too much.
Russell Westbrook had 32 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals to lead Oklahoma City (12-13), while Kevin Durant added 26 as the Thunder won 104 to 92. Rudy Gay led Sacramento (11-14) with 22 points and six rebounds, while reserve Carl Landry added 14 points.
Facing their tenth straight game without DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings trailed for most of the contest but stayed tough in the fourth quarter, taking a 84-83 lead with eight minutes left. The Thunder regrouped thanks in most part to Westbrook, who scored ten fourth quarter points and connected on late buckets that consistently kept Sacramento out of reach.
The Thunder won their seven straight game and look primed to regain a top spot in the West now that their squad is fully healthy. While their star duo did most of the work, Oklahoma City combined to shoot 47.1% from the field while keeping the Kings at 42.9%.
In Tyrone Corbin's first game as Head Coach since taking over for the ousted Michael Malone, the Kings started the game sloppy but recovered in the second half. Sacramento managed more assists (21 to 18) and more rebounds (48 to 41) than their rivals, but they also turned the ball over 19 times and allowed 24 points off those miscues. Oklahoma City had ten turnovers and allowed an absurdly low four points off those mistakes.
Aside from Gay and Ben McLemore (10 points and three assists), the Kings starters were outplayed by their bench counterparts. The starters not named Rudy combined for just 26 points, while the reserves finished with 44. Ramon Sessions had his best game as a King, finishing with 11 points and four assists while completely outplaying Darren Collison (six points and three assists on 2-8 shooting).
On the first play of the game, Westbrook stole a lazy screen pass and drove all the way for an easy dunk that gave the Thunder a lead they'd only relinquish twice. Aside from McLemore, the Kings looked listless in the first quarter; Sacramento turned the ball over seven times while allowing Oklahoma City to shoot many open looks that led to a 59.1% clip from the field.
Sacramento's bench unit regained some momentum in the second quarter thanks to impressive stints from Sessions and Landry. The Kings cut the lead to four multiple times, but even with the bench unit producing at rare levels the Thunder never made the mistakes Sacramento needed to fully close the gap. Gay had a show-stopping dunk over Serge Ibaka to pull the Kings within 61-54 at halftime.
A quick start to the third quarter cut the lead to 65-61 after a hookshot by Jason Thompson, but again the Kings failed to pull any closer. Gay was whistled for a technical foul for barking at the refs, and the Thunder again regained a safe lead thanks to a seven-point run by Durant.
The Kings made their biggest threat early in the fourth as the Sacramento bench outdueled the Thunder bench with Durant and Westbrook on the sidelines. A 9-0 run capped off by a hookshot by Ryan Hollins brought the Kings within 83-82 with 9:17 to go, but Westbrook's heroics quickly put the game out of reach.
The most beautiful part of the night was halftime, when the Kings retired the jersey of Peja Stojakovic in front of a screaming audience and many of Peja's former teammates. In a week full of turmoil for Sacramento fans, it was a much needed reason to celebrate.
For the rival perspective, visit Welcome to Loud City.