Thunder 126, Kings 96
Nuggets from my notebook from Tuesday’s win over Sacramento.
- You knew this one was going to be a blowout the moment Russell Westbrook stormed down the lane and flushed a monster jam 10 seconds in. As DeMarcus Cousins said after the game: “That really got their blood flowing…They smelled blood.”
- From that point on, this game felt like a high school or college game, where one team was simply over-matched and there wasn’t a thing they could do about it.
- The Thunder jumped out to a 19-4 lead, made its first seven shots and assisted on six of those. The seventh made bucket was a 3-pointer by Thabo Sefolosha. The first miss was by Kevin Durant. Go figure.
- Here’s something you wouldn’t expect. The Thunder shot 12 of 22 (54.5 percent) in the first quarter. Durant was 1-for-7. That would become the oddity in this one, as Durant shot just 5-for-18 and finished with 17 points in the Thunder’s best game of the year.
- The defense was outstanding. It led to run-outs and easy scoring opportunities. And we all know by now that the Thunder is an absolute force in transition. Twenty-three of the Thunder’s 28 fast-break points were in the first half. For the game, the Thunder converted 10 of its 11 fast-break opportunities.
- Westbrook was the engine tonight. He slowed down, made it a point to look for others and made smart decisions throughout. He took only eight shots, one more than his season-low, and was every bit as effective as he normally is.
- Jeff Green benefited the most from Westbrook’s game management. Green scored six points inside the first three minutes, and all of them were off Westbrook’s feeds. Eight of Green’s 10 first-quarter points came off passes from Russ. It got Green going early and made his night on the offensive end extremely easy. Green finished with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, one of his most efficient scoring nights this season.
- I’ve said before that it’s hard to reel in Westbrook. Doing so could take away his effectiveness. He’s got to learn to manage the game like this consistently on his own. But tonight’s attack showed how great the Thunder can be if he defers and gets everyone involved. He makes Green better. He makes Nenad Krstic more of a threat. And his passing rubs off on teammates. Westbrook can score whenever he wants. The fourth quarter should be his time to shine. But in the first three, things would be so much easier if Westbrook stepped it up as a set-up man.
- The Thunder needed a blowout win like this. Another close victory or, worse, a loss, on the heels of the last three outings could have been bad for the boys going into the break. They would have had to go a week with lingering thoughts about sub par performances in the last four games. This was a big-time win.
- The 30-point win was the largest margin of victory this season. The previous mark was 29, set against the Cavs on Dec. 12. The Thunder’s 32-point lead was also a season high, topping the 31-point advantage it held against Cleveland. The 126 points were a season best as well. The old high was 125, set Jan. 13 in that shootout against Orlando.
- Krstic was taken to the locker room with just over four minutes left in the third quarter after injuring his left ring finger. In explaining the injury to the team’s medical staff, Krstic motioned his hand as if it either got caught in someone’s jersey or just bent backwards pretty badly. Krstic was cleared to return to the game but did not. A week off should help.
- For those who didn’t know, Kings guard Tyreke Evans missed tonight’s game with plantar fasciitis. He was a late scratch.
- Serge Ibaka came to play tonight. He was a load for the Kings on the glass, finishing with a team-high nine boards while keeping several plays alive and helping the Thunder control the rebounding game. Going 9-for-10 from the foul line wasn’t too bad either. His two free throws with 15.1 seconds remaining are what lifted the Thunder to its season high in points.
- Next to Westbrook’s opening dunk, Ibaka had the sequence of the game in the final two minutes. He rejected a dunk attempt by Jason Thompson and followed that by swatting a putback attempt by Donte Greene. What was left of the 18,087 went nuts.
- Is Durant becoming this team’s enforcer? It was hard to even type that question. But once again, Durant came to a teammate’s defense tonight. This time, when Kings center Samuel Dalembert delivered a hard foul on Ibaka, KD came running in and exchanged words. First Chris Bosh. Now Dalembert. What’s up, Kevin? “I like standing up for my teammates,” Durant said. “I think he fouled him pretty hard there. He seemed a little upset at a call before. But I was just trying to stand up for my teammates. Nothing serious.”
- James Harden had a career-high three blocks tonight. And all three came in the second quarter.
- If Daequan Cook can shoot it consistently as good as he did tonight the Thunder would be in great shape offensively. Cook scored a team-high 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He made five of seven 3-pointers in 21 minutes off the bench. Cook’s problem is that these shooting displays are too unpredictable. Tonight was only his fourth good shooting night from 3-point range. He’s got to become more reliable.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks liked Cook’s defense. “Daequan Cook came in and did a good job of defending,” Brooks said. “It’s easy to look at his five 3s, but the five rebounds; he had four rebounds in the first half.”
- All 12 active Thunder players got some burn tonight. Nick Collison was the only one who did not score. He missed his only two shot attempts. “Nick was trying to get on the board,” joked Brooks. “He took two bad shots. I decided I needed to take him out of the game for taking bad shots. He has to continue to think about moving the basketball. He was being a little selfish tonight.”
- DeMarcus Cousins looked disinterested…and he still had game-highs of 21 points and 13 rebounds.
- Green broke out a new hairdo, going with a Mohawk. Green said he just wanted to try something different. But with Harden also having a freshly shaven one, Green credited the look for some of the team’s success tonight. “Everybody had the Mohawks, making us a little faster on the break,” Green joked. “Just being aerodynamic.”
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