Definitely what we all felt like doing after this one.
Sometimes when the Thunder tries to rely on late defensive energy and shot-making from their superstars to overcome stereotypically sloppy offense and mistakes, it works. But that wasn’t the case Thursday in Sacramento.
Oklahoma City surrendered a ghastly 23 turnovers and gave up 17 offensive rebounds in the kind of performance that showed the Thunder at their worst in some stretches. OKC threatened to quit messing around and take control several times in the second half, but the Kings hung around long enough to give themselves a chance to win by making plays down the stretch, and that’s what they did in a 106-101 win.
Give credit first and foremost to what has to be one of the best performances of young Demarcus Cousins’s career. The second-year forward was active all night and a force down the stretch on his way to 19 points and 9 rebounds. I haven’t seen much of Cousins this year, but I’ve certainly seen his talent and read of his occasional boneheadedness. Thursday night, Cousins was a picture of polished hustle, effort and intensity. He did everything from rebound to hit free throws in crunch time. He was the star who shone brightest in the last three minutes of the game, and it was Oklahoma City’s pair of All-Stars who walked off the court on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
For the Thunder, dropping this game probably doesn’t quite get down to the level of losing at Washington earlier this year. But it’s still a disappointing result. The Kings are a lottery team, and OKC should take care of business against them no matter the venue. The crowd was amped up for the only national TV game in Sacramento this year, and the Thunder is nearing the tail end of what has been a tiring road trip so far, but this is a game Oklahoma City should have won going away, and it didn’t.
Wasted in the loss was a franchise record 17 blocks. Serge Ibaka led the way with 10 before (crucially) fouling out late in the game. But in a way, the block party was emblematic of the way the Thunder tried to get away with yet another sloppy win but didn’t. OKC lives dangerously by being so careless with the ball and careless defensively when unfocused, and usually can bail itself out at the end of the game with stellar play, just like a weakside block bails out the defense at the end of the play. The Thunder scrambled to stop the Kings at the ends of plays and the end of the game, but it was sometimes dysfunctional Sacramento that made enough plays during all 48 minutes to get the upset.
As bad as that all sounds, it’s just one disappointing game. No new problems surfaced. It’s not news the Thunder plays like that sometimes — and, by the way, that bad-ish losses happen in every NBA season and will during this compressed season in particular. The Kings are a young team with some athleticism and passion too, and they played like you would expect them to for what amounts to their biggest home game of the year.
That’s also what should allay any fears that a loss to the Kings of any kind is outright disastrous. It’s tough to beat an unusually motivated team at home, and that’s what the Thunder ran into Thursday in Sacramento. It’s disappointing the same old issues led to the Kings having 22 more shots than OKC in a close game, but that’s the end of it. It’s easy to over-emphasize one loss and forget signs of badly needed progress, but don’t give into the temptation.
- Let’s just start with this: Russell Westbrook danced on defense. I like it.
- I felt incomplete by not being able to watch at least some of the many pre-tipoff rituals Oklahoma City’s players have when TNT couldn’t switch to the game in time. The Lakers’ one-point win in Boston went to overtime, so with the local guys shut out by the TNT monopoly, the broadcast picked up with the Thunder game in progress and Sacramento up 4-0.
- Everyone knows where DT stands when it comes to the Thunder wearing dark shoes with the home white uniforms, which the team wore today with the Kings decked out in their road blacks for a “black out” night. It should be the standard home look in OKC.
- Was it written into the new CBA that the Thunder has to start slow a lot? Sacramento got out to an 11-2 lead to open the game with all of OKC’s usual problems in sluggish starts rearing their heads. But eventually fierce defense, getting to the rim, better shot selection and good luck got the Thunder back into the game with a 14-1 run.
- What’s up with the inside of the circle on the top half of the key being a lighter color of wood than the rest of the floor? That has to be the most random and dumb court design gimmick I’ve seen.
- The interruption by the emergency broadcast system test in the third quarter here in the OKC metro was a loud and rude. But, you know, this is Oklahoma and we’ve got to make some accommodations for stuff that can save your skin during crazy weather.
- Durant busted out the Dirk for a swish late in the third quarter. It’s that basketball porn stuff Bill Simmons talks about. If KD really nails that move…
- Speaking of basketball porn. Westbrook provided some of a more sudden and violent kind.
- There were a few moments you could consider Jimmer Time! Jimmer Fredette had a nice dish for an easy bucket followed by a pull-up 3-pointer in transition at one point, plus a transition layup during a 9-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters. But also an airball at the end of that run.
- The Sacramento crowd deserves props. They were loud and proud and made a difference in the game.
- James Harden got off to a ridiculous start, piling up 14 points on only one missed shot before the second quarter was even half over. Maybe chapped about the All-Star snub? But only three more points the rest of the way.
- For the most part, KD and Westbrook had nice nights — other than their combined 11 turnovers, which is frustrating but not surprising on a night when the team had 23 total. Efficient scoring, not too many bad shots. No more defensive lapses than the next guy, and 60 combined points. But…
- … the OKC bench got worked for once, at least statistically. In 76 minutes, the Thunder bench had 19 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 8 turnovers. In 68 minutes, the Kings bench had 34 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and one turnover. Ouch. That won’t happen every night, even with poor Eric Maynor sidelined.
Next up: 9:30 p.m. Friday at Utah to finish the road trip.