7 Rebounds for DeAndre Liggins, part of a +8 Thunder rebounding effort
10 Steals by the Thunder, including eight by the starting lineup
11 Rebounds for Kevin Durant, in addition to 24 points and five assists
14 Assists for Russell Westbrook, a season-high, including a Thunder record eight in the third quarter
24 Points for Kevin Martin on 9-for-16 shooting
41.9 Field goal percentage the Thunder defense held the Kings to on the night
59-37 Point differential in the Thunder’s favor in quarters two and three combined
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – There’s a steadiness about this Thunder squad, and regardless of whether they’re playing great or poorly, it’s that self-assuredness that keeps it grounded.
On Friday night against the Sacramento Kings, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club fell behind 23-9 early, but showed no panic as it outscored the Kings 77-38 during the deciding middle stretch of the game that saw the Thunder build a 25-point cushion. As usual, it started on the defensive end for the Thunder. Led by Kendrick Perkins’ man-to-man defense on DeMarcus Cousins, the Thunder held the Kings under 39 percent shooting in both the second and third quarters and to 41.9 percent total on the night.
“We just locked in,” Brooks said. “We always talk about individual pride. That has to happen first. Then if you need help, your teammate has to be able to help you from behind, then you have to help the helper… We always want to hold teams in the low 40’s and we did that tonight. That always gives us a chance to win.”
The selflessness, mentally focused nature the Thunder displayed on defense tonight carried over to the offensive end, fulfilling the Thunder’s nightly quest to turn defensive stops into efficient offense. The Thunder had 25 assists through three quarters, and had five different players score in double figures.
The big run to get the Thunder back into the game was led by Kevin Martin and the second unit with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka also getting into the mix. By moving without the ball and then sharing it, the Thunder did an excellent job of executing on offense.
“Guys were sacrificing shots,” Durant said. “We’re trying to make the right play. When you have a guy like (Martin) who came in and hit his first two or three shots, it gives everybody else confidence and it feels like the basket gets wider. It was a good win for us.”
The turn-around was jumpstarted by Martin, whose 15 first-half points, movement away from the ball and shot making were instrumental in terms of helping the Thunder raise its energy level. For the night Martin went 9-for-16 and 4-for-10 from three, but also scored on back-door cuts, isolation plays and out of pick-and-rolls. The man who started his career in Sacramento had one of his best scoring nights of the season for the Thunder, and continues to make an impact in the Thunder’s second unit.
“He’s very comfortable here obviously,” Brooks said. “He had a great start of his career here with a good fan base cheering him on. Obviously there’s a comfort level playing here, but we’re happy because we needed it. He’s been doing that all year. He gives us scoring off the bench, he gives us hustle off the bench and he’s a big part of what we’ve done so far.”
Martin, like many of his Thunder teammates, gets quite a few of his scoring opportunities off of assists from Westbrook, who tonight scored 18 points while dishing out a season-high 14 assists. Whether it was in early offense whipping one-handed passes into the lane or seeing plays develop before they happened, Westbrook’s vision and accuracy was at its highest levels throughout the evening. He gave teammates high percentage chances to score while also showing leadership on the defensive end.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” Brooks said. “That’s how we play. We’re an aggressive team. We play with force on the offensive end, but it always starts with our defense, and Russell is one of our five defenders on the floor. When he defends, everybody defends and we’re a good team on the offensive end.”
Westbrook, who on Thursday was selected for his third consecutive All-Star game, perpetually finds the balance between his ability to be an elite scorer with his focus on also being an elite distributor. Westbrook ranks in the top seven in both points and assists per game, and on nights like tonight it’s easy to see why. The electricity with which he made plays in the open court or attacked the rim was obvious, but Westbrook also did the subtle things like repeatedly posting up the much smaller Isaiah Thomas or manipulating the pick-and-roll to create the post advantageous passing lanes.
“He was great,” Martin said. “He’s a special point guard. He wasn’t looking to score too much and he was just making the right play all night… It started with Russell just setting up guys tonight.”
The Thunder led 60-53 with 10:19 left in the third quarter, but then over the span of eight minutes, the team used a 26-8 run to blow the game open. It started with the passing of Russell Westbrook, who assisted Thabo Sefolosha on three consecutive baskets, then Westbrook himself got into the mix by hitting a three-pointer. Sefolosha added a tip-in and then Westbrook’s assist barrage began again when he assisted on five straight baskets to Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka. During the stretch the Thunder’s defense forced nine missed shots and six turnovers, and the Thunder led 86-61.
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Nice job of fronting the post by Ibaka to knock the ball away on an entry pass. Good post defense by Perkins to pull the chair and force an errant pass that leads to a Thunder fast break. Beautiful backdoor cut by Westbrook and a nice feed from Perkins for a layup. Westbrook smartly tips a defensive rebound out of DeMarcus Cousins’ hands to a teammate. Laser sharp pass by Durant to Kevin Martin on a backdoor cut. Nice hustle by Liggins to fly in, grab an offensive rebound then save it. Heads up play by Westbrook to jump back into the passing lane after a made basket and force an in-bounds violation.
Plays the box score won't show:
Good work by Durant to get back in transition and stay on his feet to be in position to block Cousins. Wonderful instincts by Sefolosha to dive to the hoop on a Westbrook post up. Strong defensive possession by Perkins to force a missed shot, then a strong box out by Ibaka draws a foul. Nice job by Westbrook to slap the ball away from behind on a Kings drive. Thabeet tips a defensive board to himself then quickly gets it to Jackson in transition.
“Russell, it was one of his best overall games. 14 assists, he was finding guys. Guys were doing a good job of making shots also. There was good screen setting, but I just like the defense we played in that second part of the first quarter and on.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks