With Third Quarter Charge, Thunder Perseveres in MLK Day Win – OKC 95, SAC 88

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Loud City turned into lob central in the third quarter on Monday night, as the Thunder flashed through the sky to break away for a 95-88 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

First it was a Russell Westbrook toss over the top to Paul George, who caught it under the rim, waited for the help defenders to converge and then dished it back to a cutting Steven Adams for a monster dunk. Three possessions later, Carmelo Anthony posted up on the right block, used his leverage and then spun baseline, and Westbrook lobbed him an alley-oop, which the longtime veteran slammed home. The next trip down court, Anthony set his man up for a pin down screen from Adams, but the big Kiwi slipped the screen, soared up to the rim and Westbrook found him again.

“They were up on screening actions and pick and rolls. They were very aggressive and up the lane line,” Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “Russell did a really good job of at times recognizing that and getting some easy baskets for some of our guys.”

“We saw that one kind of coming,” Anthony said of his spin lob. “We got some eye contact. He knew it was there. I knew he was there. Once I went to post up, he saw it right away and I just took advantage of that. We’re getting better at that.”

Those three baskets were all a part of a 9-0 third quarter run by Oklahoma City to shake off a sluggish first half that featured some turnovers (20 in the game), uncharacteristic lackadaisical transition defense (14 total fast break points allowed) and poor shooting on offense, including the free throw line, where the Thunder shot just 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) on the night.

“We just didn’t, in the first half, play with any pace at all offensively,” Donovan explained.

The turnaround for the Thunder actually started to come in the second quarter, as the starting unit responded to a 15-point Kings lead by ripping off an 11-1 run towards the end of the second quarter to make it just a six-point halftime deficit. It started with a pair of Westbrook attacks to the rim, then a George free throw line jumper, and was capped with a catch-and-shoot three-pointer by Carmelo Anthony. During that stretch the Thunder’s defense started to tighten up, getting a block and a steal before forcing a pair of missed shots.

That positive energy carried over into a dominant third quarter for Oklahoma City when it outscored the Kings 31-16, including the string of lobs that turned a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead during the period. A 15-3 spurt that helped the Thunder re-take its first lead since the first quarter featured a couple of trailing three-pointers by Anthony. The prolific scorer is clearly becoming more and more comfortable in his role as a catch-and-shoot player who can stretch the floor for the rest of the group, in addition to performing at a high level as a team defender, and showed both skills after halftime.

“We buckled down defensively,” Anthony said. “We made an adjustment. We started switching in the second half, keeping a body on a body. We started to tighten up on the pin downs and the curls and the communication was very high tonight in the second half.”

The Thunder’s second unit held Sacramento to just two points through the first four minutes of the fourth, but until Westbrook checked back in, wasn’t able to score at all. Once the reigning MVP returned, however, forward Patrick Patterson drained back-to-back three-pointers to push the Thunder’s lead out to 13.

Defense starts the party. @pdpatt finishes on the other end.

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The first shot came after the stretch forward skied high for a Westbrook pass, came back down and immediately went back up with the jumper. After making a steal, Jerami Grant pushed the ball up floor and hit a streaking Patterson on the right wing, and the 37 percent three-point shooter did the rest.

"Our team needs (Patterson) to shoot threes and when he can get good looks, we need him to take them," Donovan said. "It was good to see him knock down back-to-back because it gave us a little breathing room and separation."

In the closing minutes the game was still in reach, with the Thunder’s 16-point lead slashed to just seven after a contentious sequence resulted in a Westbrook ejection and a technical on Donovan. George was the one to pick up the slack down the stretch, combining his prodigious defensive gifts with an important curling jumper in the lane and then a free throw to push the lead back out to 10 points. It was George’s steal with 2:42 to go, a block with 2:10 left and a tough contest to force a missed layup with 1:17 remaining that helped grind the Kings offense to a standstill down the stretch.

“Just the verticality, playing at the rim, not allowing them to get an easy basket,” George said. “It just comes down to stops and trying to help the team.”

Highlights: Thunder vs. Kings

By the Numbers

18-7 – The Thunder’s advantage in points off turnovers, despite turning it over five more times than the Kings

+21 – Rebounding margin for the Thunder on the night, the largest differential for the season

36 – Points allowed by the Thunder defense in the second half, as it kept Sacramento to just 30.8 percent shooting

The Last Word

“Anytime we get an opportunity to play on this day, it’ll always be a special day for myself, I’m pretty sure for my teammates and the organization to have that opportunity to play on this day. For us to win on this very special day, that means a lot.” – forward Carmelo Anthony on MLK Day

“It’s always an honor every year, to have that opportunity. I think if (Martin Luther King Jr.) was here to see what the world has evolved to, he’ll be proud of the accomplishment of having young African Americans and the whole league being able to play as one. It’s special for every nationality and it’s an honor to play on MLK.” – forward Paul George


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