Coming off the emotional win in Los Angeles less than 24 hours ago, it felt like the Thunder could be walking into a trap. It felt like this game could be a letdown. I was ready for it. I was almost convinced it would happen.
And Oklahoma City appeared well on its way to it after giving up 37 points in the second quarter which included 13 straight makes by the Kings. The Thunder just looked uninspired, unfocused and mostly flat.
Then Serge Ibaka roared. Like seriously, he roared.
Ibaka sparked the team with back-to-back blocks at the rim which led to a big Kevin Durant jumper that pulled OKC within one at the time. Before that, the Thunder had worked themselves back from nine points down, but still looked about half asleep. Sometimes teams need a jumpstart and Ibaka provided it. He was 1-5 in the first half but went 4-4 in the second to finished with 15 points to go with eight rebounds and six blocks.
Ibaka helped jolt the Thunder to a 36-26 advantage in the third, which carried them to a 120-112 victory.
After the Thunder finally got going, Russell Westbrook and KD did their work, combined for 62 points on 22-38 shooting (Westbrook 30, KD 32). Here’s a fun stat: In games Durant shots 50 percent from the floor, OKC is now 22-1. Of course he was 8-16 in this one.
I’m actually almost equally impressed with this win as I was with the one over the Lakers Sunday night. To respond on the second of a back-to-back like this against a team playing pretty solid ball on an emotional night in their arena in front of a pretty vocal crowd, is impressive. This team has learned a lot from last season. I don’t think OKC played its best game or anything really close to that, but the Thunder played well enough. The defense was better in the second half and even though it took a while to really get going, they didn’t drop a game they probably shouldn’t have. I think a win like this almost says as much about the Thunder development and maturity as the one against L.A. did. Maybe that’s a little crazy, but it’s true.
The Thunder had to withstand a big night from DeMarcus Cousins (30 points, including 18-21 from the line) and some streaky shooting from Marcus Thornton. OKC turned it over 19 times, which is very bad, but again, that was a result of an obvious lack of focus for a good amount of the game. Looking over the stats, the Thunder sort of dominated, shooting 57 percent from the floor while holding the Kings to 41 percent. The major difference that kept Sacramento close was 38-42 from the line and 10 more shot attempts because of the turnovers and 16 offensive rebounds.
Again, not a perfect win, but in my mind, it’s a very good one.
- Dallas won, so OKC remains a game back with both teams playing one more. Mavs play the Hornets Wednesday.
- I have to mention the very sketchy officiating tonight. Even from my very biased perspective, the Thunder got a bunch of whistles in this game. The foul count was virtually even, but it sure seemed like OKC was gifted a few calls. Maybe not game-deciding calls, but if I were a Kings fan, I’d definitely be talking about it on the way home.
- James Harden had a weird night. He missed a wide open dunk, then a layup and started the game 1-5. He finished 3-7 for 12 points but it should’ve been a little bit better.
- Crazy sequence in the third quarter: Russell Westbrook got to the rim and blew a huge dunk and the ball rocketed all the way back to Kendrick Perkins who was at halfcourt. Perk sort of fumbled the ball and Cousins started looking at the ref for a carrying call. With Cousins distracted, Perk went right to the rim — all the way from halfcourt — and scored for an and-1. Not something you see all that often.
- KD and Russ were great, again combined for 62, but they also combined for 12 turnovers.
- OKC is now 19-4 after the Perk trade.
- I embedding it above, but this is maybe my favorite clip of the year — here’s what Russell Westbrook looks like coming at you in transition. I’ve watched this probably 75 times.
- Perk had a lot of trouble with Cousins. Cousins is the type of player Perk doesn’t see a lot of. He’s not a jumpshooter, but he’s a wide bodied big man that can put the ball on the floor and attack a little off the dribble. Perk just had trouble keeping his hands off him.
- KD was 15-17 from the line. Cousins was 18-21. Between the two, they attempted 37 free throws. That’s crazy.
- Really, kind of a big moment that OKC escaped in the closing seconds. After the Kings missed a shot with 20 seconds left, Durant gathered the ball and went up court. The Kings tried to foul him, but for some reason, no whistle blew. KD lost the ball and the Kings had it, down six, with 15 seconds left. A 3-pointer here and we’re all having flashbacks of the Warrior game. OKC would have to get the ball in, hit a free throw and stress a bit. Instead, the Kings threw it away immediately, the ball worked back to KD and he made both free throws to ice it.
- I’m am really becoming a proponent of re-signing Nazr Mohammed in the offseason. He plays quality backup minutes every night.
- I really expected a little bigger crowd in this one. For being maybe the second to last game ever in Sacramento, against a very good team with two superstars mind you, there were a lot of empty seats. Kind of surprising.
- Brian Davis Line(s) of the Night: “Well that’s become a big part of the Thunder’s arsenal, that backtap.” Also, a runner-up: After Harden was fouled on a jumper, Davis said, “The ball doesn’t lie there, does it?” This is before Harden went to the free throw line. And one more: Talking about DeMarcus Cousins after getting a technical: “This is why people argue about letting people play one year in college and come out. They can’t handle it.” Ahem… Kevin Durant?
Next up: The regular season finale at home Wednesday versus the Bucks.