7 Assists for Russell Westbrook, who also had 15 points and eight rebounds
11 Rebounds by Kevin Durant in addition to 27 points, three assists and two steals
18-for-20 Free throw shooting by the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant’s 10-for-10 night
38 Bench points on the night for the Thunder, including 13 by Reggie Jackson
39.3 Shooting percentage the Thunder held the Kings to throughout the night
40-26 Scoring edge for the Thunder in points in the paint
59-34 Scoring differential in the Thunder’s advantage, as it held the Kings to 13-for-44 shooting
Dec. 3rd, 2013
SACRAMENTO – Russell Westbrook hurried the Kings’ Isaiah Thomas at the top of the key, forcing him to fumble the ball. As the seconds dripped off the clock, the Thunder point guard forced a missed fade-away attempt and his team got a final, critical defensive stop.
NBA games come down to those precious plays where five-man units grind out defensive possessions to force turnovers or misfires from the perimeter, and in the Thunder’s 97-95 road victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club made just enough of them to get a win.
The Thunder’s length and athleticism are major benefits on the defensive side of the ball, but it was intelligent, team-oriented plays like one Kendrick Perkins made that defined the Thunder’s effort on the night, as it held Sacramento to just 39.3 percent shooting. As the Kings dribbled up court, Perkins called out Sacramento’s impending play ahead of time, alerting his teammates and helping the other four players get positioned on the court. Sacramento’s ball-handler, Grevious Vasquez, tried to turn the corner, but Perkins had already beat him to the spot, slapping the ball away and disrupting the possession.
“I try to get a read every time and try to jump the play and let people know the play is coming towards them,” Perkins said. “We’re just trying to get better communication-wise.”
The ability to make a defensive stop strictly because of communication and cohesion on the defensive end is a sign of high-level mental basketball, and it is something that has been growing steadily over the years for Brooks’ team. Lankly athletes like Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson have all the physical tools, but every night, the Thunder tries to be a team that combines those gifts with the right mental and emotional approach. Aside from a few stretches in the first and fourth quarters, the Thunder got that combination nearly all night in Sacramento.
“We helped each other out, we trusted each other and we were playing off of one another on the defensive end,” Brooks said. ”It allowed us to get out and score in transition.”
While often times the Thunder uses its defense to spark its offense, sometimes the opposite reaction can be critical to team success. Tonight in the middle quarters, when the Thunder out-scored Sacramento to the tune of 59-to-34, the Thunder got high-percentage looks at the rim possession-after-possession, which prevented the Kings from forcing turnovers, grabbing long rebounds and getting out into transition to start offense early in the shot clock. Those positive offensive possessions ensured that the Thunder’s defense didn’t have to work extra hard on the other end.
“When we get good shots, they’re taking the ball out of the basket and we can get our defense set,” Durant explained.
The Thunder’s offensive and defensive exploits came to a high point during its 18-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and first few possessions of the fourth, when it scored on nine straight possessions and forced Kings misses on nine straight trips as well. Sacramento clawed back, however, and despite Kevin Durant’s 27 point, 11-rebound night and the 39 points off the bench that Lamb and Jackson provided, the Kings had a chance to win the game down the stretch. Fortunately for Brooks and company, the Thunder made just enough plays as a team on both sides of the ball in the fourth to come away with a prized road victory.
“We have big-game players and we know we have guys who can hit big shots,” Durant said. “Jeremy hit some big ones and Reggie hit some big ones. Serge got some key blocks and key rebounds for us.”
The Thunder held off the Kings at the very end, but in the third quarter it used an 18-0 run to build its largest lead of the night at 17 points, needing every point to keep Sacramento at bay. Trailing 65-64 with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter, the Thunder rattled off nine straight possessions where it scored on a field goal or at the free throw line, while also forcing nine straight Kings misses on defense.
“Our offense was really good and that keyed our defense. We were talking and we were scrambling. We kept those guys on the perimeter and we rebounded. We just have to continue to do that.”
The run began with a Nick Collison jumper off a Reggie Jackson drive-and-dish, then Kevin Durant knocked down two free throws before Collison grabbed an offensive board and got a put-back to give the Thunder a 70-65 lead. Durant then hit Jeremy Lamb on a leak out after a defensive rebound for a layup, then Collison hit a hook shot, Durant scored at the rim and Jackson hit a jumper as the Thunder went into the quarter break up 78-65. To open the fourth quarter Jeremy Lamb hit a runner then followed it with two free throws, helping the Thunder build an 82-65 advantage.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Russell Westbrook pokes the ball away from behind and then slaps it off of his man’s leg. Westbrook sticks with the offensive rebound and slaps it away off his opponent. Nice recovery work by Steven Adams to follow his man on a cut through the lane to knock away an entry pass. Great individual post defense by Nick Collison to force an air ball as the shot clock wound down. Beautiful bounce pass in the lane by Derek Fisher to Serge Ibaka for an easy dunk. Expert ball movement by Westbrook and Kevin Durant frees up Thabo Sefolosha for a corner three.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Two slick backdoor cuts by Westbrook and accurate passes from Kendrick Perkins as the big man finds his point guards for easy buckets. Nice job by Westbrook to battle a much bigger man on the defensive boards and force him to tip it out of bounds. Excellent awareness by Perkins to call out Sacramento’s play ahead of time and then get to the spot early. Hard work on the offensive glass by Collison and Adams to get multiple shots at the rim. Multiple efforts by Ibaka on the defensive glass, then he blocks a shot to save a sure bucket.
“We made some big shots. I thought Jeremy and Reggie did a good job of handling that second half. We made big shots. When we pass the ball, we always seem to get a good shot. We have to keep that mentality up. – Head Coach Scott Brooks