That was badly needed. The Sacramento Kings, after weeks of giving up absurd amounts of offense to seemingly any team that they face on the court, finally locked down and delivered a defensive performance against a quality, albeit sleepwalking Oklahoma City Thunder team. The Kings led from wire to wire, ending the contest by smashing the Thunder by a score of 104-83.
The Kings were led by a hot-shooting Darren Collison, who put on a masterful two-way performance. Not only did he score 24 points on 9/19 shooting and hit a career high five three pointers, he also helped to slow down Oklahoma City's dynamic Russell Westbrook on defense, who had one of the most horrific nights of his career. DeMarcus Cousins also put in a solid night despite his frightening box score stats; while he did score 23 points on 6/23 shooting with 6 turnovers, his relentless attack of the Oklahoma City interior defense led to foul trouble for the entire Thunder frontline. The Thunder played incredibly physical with Cousins, who did pick up a technical foul, but the new-age Boogie will just keeping coming at you and get to the free throw line. Just a relentless assault leading to 13 free throws on the night. Rudy Gay also had a highly productive night, scoring 28 points on only 19 shots, including 3/3 from three point range. The Kings also received a key contribution from Carl Landry off the bench, whose jumper was on point for the night. Landry scored 10 points on six shots in only 18 minutes.
The story of the night was the defense. Oklahoma City shot 32% from the field and only 30% from three, and not much of it was a fluke. The rotations were sharp all night long, even when the team was forced to rotate three or four times. The paint was shut down by Cousins, who drew three charges (consecutively!) and blocked three shots. Cousins was every bit the rim protector the Kings have been missing ever since he went down with viral meningitis and since he's been slowed in his recovery. Westbrook and Kevin Durant shot a combined 11/39 from the field, having trouble shaking Kings defenders and finishing over Cousins in the paint. The Thunder also had 24 turnovers, which was a combination of good Kings defense and some horrifying Thunder sloppiness, leading to 26 Kings points.
These kinds of games were common back in that mythical November that seems so long ago, but important to note that in addition to the smashmouth defense was an added wrinkle of some opportunistic fast-breaked play and solid three point shooting. The Kings hit ten three pointers on the night and got out on the break against an athletic Thunder team to buoy their 39% shooting overall. Vivek Ranadive and Pete D'Alessandro will probably point to this game as an example of the kind of style they want to play in the future; great defense, a quicker pace, and a free-flowing offense. It was a great win for a Kings team badly needing a shot of anything positive, still holding out hope that this isn't just another season thrown away. The Kings next play against the Nuggets on Friday.
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