You just never know with these Sacramento Kings.
While its true the Oklahoma City Thunder were missing the 2014 MVP Kevin Durant, on paper the Thunder should have won this game at home. They are a championship contender and still sport a Top 10 defense that can grind them out wins if one of their dynamic superstars is out. But that's not what happened tonight. The Kings walked into Oklahoma City, a town they had never won a game, and slugged the Thunder in the mouth.
It really was a tale of two halves. The first half was an electric up-and-down affair, with the two teams lighting up the scoreboard for a combined 134 points. Its the kind of track meet you would expect when a team with the Thunder's athleticism matches up against a team coached by George Karl. Russell Westbrook was causing all kinds of problems for the Kings, dishing out 11 first half assists to a sharpshooting duo of Serge Ibaka and Anthony Morrow. The Kings deliberately give up the shots that Ibaka loves to hit, so that wasn't a surprise. The defense on Morrow, on the other hand, was inexcusable. The Thunder looked like they were going to run away with the game in the first quarter, jumping out to a 31-14 lead. The Kings would come alive offensively, railing off a 17-0 run to close the quarter. DeMarcus Cousins was brilliant during this stretch, scoring 18 first half points in the full buffet of ways Boogie can, from burying threes to rim-rattling dunks. Marco Belinelli and Darren Collison gave the Kings a massive boost off the bench, and the rest of the half was a seesaw with the Kings nursing a two point lead at the break.
The second half became a slugfest, which favored the team with the biggest, baddest dude on the court (i.e. not the Thunder). Although Boogie didn't shoot efficiently, his relentless attack in the paint helped get Thunder rim protector Steven Adams into foul trouble, which helped loosen the Thunder defense. The Kings also got another solid outing from Kosta Koufos, who tag-teamed with Boogie to own the paint. The Kings outrebounded the Thunder 48-39, they outscored the Thunder in the paint 50-40, and held Westbrook to 6/23 shooting, many of which were attempts stymied at the rim.
This was a win the Kings really needed. I don't think the bad taste of the Portland and Philly losses has washed away quite yet, and picking up a road win against the Thunder is just what the doctor ordered. With a back-to-back on the road tomorrow against the surging Mavericks on tap, this win keeps the Kings from losing too much ground in this tough stretch of games. Onto the observations!
- For the last three minutes of the game, the Kings basically ran a prevent offense, with Collison dribbling out the shot clock and getting a high screen from Cousins. The Kings were already up by 13 points by that time so it didn't hurt, but it was frustrating watching them stop running anything on offense.
- Willie Cauley-Stein looked like he hadn't missed a beat. Without Omri Casspi, there was an opening in the rotation, and Willie made a big impact with his defense and activity on offense. Unfortunately he hurt another finger swatting a shot and hitting the backboard (again), but thankfully it wasn't the same finger he dislocated. Lets hope he's back sooner than later because he adds another dimension to the Kings rotation.
- Ben McLemore went out with a back injury at halftime, another blow to the Kings with Casspi also struggling with back trouble (seriously what were the seats on the plane they were flying on made of?). Belinelli was brilliant starting for Ben; he has great chemistry with Rondo, and now that he's hitting his shots he propels the Kings offense into another stratosphere. James Anderson, on the other hand, still looks lost and incompetent. The Kings starting lineup in the second half of Rondo/Belinelli/Gay/Cauley-Stein/Cousins looked pretty solid and balanced.
- Rudy Gay really struggled tonight. Not only was he not hitting his usual shots, but he refused to put down any easy ones, including an open court dunk he flubbed just because he mishandled the ball. And then the defense... yeesh. He repeatedly lost track of Morrow and rotated outside of the scheme, getting a lecture from both Boogie and Rondo. The Kings didn't need his offense as much today, but it would be great if they can get his smooth game back.
- The Thunder are uniquely equipped to defend Cousins in the paint. With Adams providing the beef, Ibaka can swoop in from the weakside and clean up anything an off-balance Boogie puts up. Cousins repeatedly was forced to take tough shots fading away going left, which is the worst of Boogie field goal attempts. But there is no stopping Cousins when he has a mind to attack; relentless assault of the post forced the refs' hands to call several fouls out of the scrum in the paint, and Adams had to watch several minutes from the sidelines in favor of the ineffective Enes Kanter.
- Collison and Rondo are starting to find their groove playing together. Collison has been a bright spot the last few games, arguably outplaying a Rondo who hasn't been making good decisions lately. Rondo had another huge turnover game with six, but stabilized in the fourth, dishing six assists and only turning it over once. He didn't hit his free throws tonight, but it was reassuring having Collison around to handle the ball.