Loose Defense, Second Chances & Missed Shots Result in Road Loss - OKC 113, SAC 117

SACRAMENTO — The Sacramento Kings flowed uninhibited into offense, without pressure at the point of the screen, turning corners and hitting the paint. The result was an avalanche of wide open kick out three pointers, some tough offensive possessions for the Thunder and a whiplash-inducing 27-8 deficit right out of the gates for Oklahoma City. After a steadying of the bows Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club gave itself a chance, but the Kings had one last burst in them: a 20-10 fourth quarter charge to create enough separation to prevent a full on comeback as the Thunder fell 117-113.

“To start the game they were the more aggressive team,” said Donovan. “They were coming at us with their pace and we were always backpedaling. We were never able to generate any force coming back except for the third quarter.”

Although the Thunder put together some flurries, it took the entire first half for the team to get its sea legs back. Donovan’s club fell behind by 19 in the first half thanks to 23 points from a red hot Iman Shumpert, but a 16-5 Thunder burst to start the second quarter kept it close and then a 19-6 run over the first 8 minutes of the third quarter tied the game at 75, setting up a back and forth battle over the final quarter and change. Ultimately the Thunder couldn’t overcome a 41.7 percent shooting night, including 12-of-42 from three-point range.“They play fast, they play early in the shot clock. It took us a second to get things under control,” said forward Paul George. “General statement for the game, we didn’t shoot well enough to win the game.”Maybe part of that was Russell Westbrook getting back into his groove. After missing six games due to an ankle sprain and the birth of his twin daughters, Westbrook returned to the Thunder lineup and played himself into a rhythm as the game went along. After starting 1-for-5 from three-point range and initiating a Thunder offense that had 7 first quarter turnovers, Westbrook continued to exude his trademark confidence and played with more controlled force in the second half on his way to 29 points on 12-for-25 shooting including a 4-for-10 mark from behind the arc plus 13 rebounds and 7 assists. 

“I got a job and my kids are fine and healthy. I’m blessed and thankful, so I’m good,” said Westbrook.

Shorthanded without Terrance Ferguson (personal matter), Alex Abrines (illness) and Nerlens Noel, who was a late scratch due to illness, Donovan had to get creative with rotations and lineups to remain productive. The Thunder’s All-Star point guard Westbrook was buoyed offensively by Paul George’s 27 points, an 11-point, 15-rebound double-double by Steven Adams and an incredible 7-for-7 shooting night by Hamidou Diallo, who registered a career-high 18 points while outrunning Kings speedster De’Aaron Fox in the open floor for a transition dunk and driving baseline and dropping off a slick bounce pass to Jerami Grant in the lane.“It’s good for shots to go in, it opens things up,” said Diallo. “It starts off first with my teammates putting me in position and believing in me and my coaches as well.”“(Diallo) has got star talent, he’s got star potential in him. The kid plays like he’s been playing ball in this league for years,” said George. “He has a good understanding, a good feel for the game.”

All that offensive assistance couldn’t help the Thunder overcome the lackadaisical first half defense, and the second chance points down the stretch that thwarted the comeback try. A crushing Buddy Hield three-pointer after a long rebound and a Marvin Bagley put back layup in the closing minutes kept the Thunder at bay despite a barrage of three-pointers by Westbrook and George in the closing minutes. As Dennis Schröder’s three-pointer missed the target and Fox’s late free throws dropped, the Thunder’s streak of wins in 10 of the last 11 games went by the wayside.As the Thunder looked back at this one, it will call upon the return of what was previously one of the top three rated defenses in the NBA. The Kings managed to get off 38 three-point attempts, and enough of them were wide open enough for 16 of those to drop. The makes from behind the arc combined with a plus-6 rebounding edge for Sacramento, snapping a five-game streak of out-rebounding its opposition for the Thunder. “There was a lot, said Westbrook, “the way we started and we got ourselves back in the game but there were too many open shots for them.”

”We gave up way too many threes. Teams that come down and start running around and start letting threes fonandnthey start making them, it’s really hard to overcome,” noted Donovan. “What broke our back was some offensive rebounds, kickouts, threes.”

Highlights: Thunder at Kings - 11/19