Thunder 102, Kings 87
Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s win over Sacramento.
- The Kings were the first of five straight teams that the Thunder had not yet faced. And early on, this one was like a boxing match where both teams spend the first few rounds feeling each other out. Neither team could establish a rhythm in the first quarter, and it led to some pretty ugly basketball. The Thunder had four turnovers in the quarter and didn’t play particularly good defense.
- But with the Thunder’s offense stuck in mud in the first period, Eric Maynor came off the bench and ignited his team with precision passing. Maynor controlled the pace and dished out some beautiful dimes to get his guys going. He had five assists in six minutes and turned the tide in this one.
- When Maynor first came in, the Thunder trailed 20-17. When he sat, the Thundehad r led 35-27. That’s one instance where I’m a firm believer in plus-minus. You had to watch the game to see what kind of hand he had in this one.
- Nick Collison was better than he’s been all season. He scored a season-high 12 points, getting most of his baskets off hustle plays and pretty feeds from Maynor. And he rebounded aggressively like it was indeed a critical key to the game that Scott Brooks told his players it would be.
- James Harden again showed some nice assertiveness. He had a nice two-dribble pull-up just before the first-quarter buzzer, buried a 3 without hesitation early in the second and followed that with another aggressive drive to the hoop. Unfortunately for Harden, things dried up pretty quickly. After making two of his first four shots, Harden missed his next five. Even his free throws (4-for-6 tonight) bounced short and in and out. Tough night for him offensively after his nice early start. But Brooks praised him after the game for doing other things with passion.
- Harden had yet another near poster dunk. The guy is starting to threaten to make you jump out of your seat on at least one occasion every night.
- Thunder fans might consider sending Kings coach Paul Westphal a Christmas card for playing Carl Landry only 24 minutes, just 12 of them coming in the first three quarters. Apparently, Westphal didn’t know that Landry averaged 19.8 points and 8.5 rebounds against the Thunder over four games last season.
- Tyreke Evans never met a shot he didn’t like.
- Evans was destroying the Thunder in the first half. Nobody, not Thabo Sefolosha, not Kevin Durant, not Russell Westbrook, not Jeff Green and not Serge Ibaka, could stop him. And they all had a crack at him. Evans had 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting in the first half.
- Evans finished with 22 points on 8-for-20 shooting.
- Green’s 11 points on 5-for-14 shooting was forgettable. But tip your cap to him for grabbing nine rebounds and helping to control that aspect of the game.
- Green with reserves Maynor, Harden, Collison and D.J. White is really a nice little unit. I’ve said it since Brooks went to it about three weeks ago. Those guys can do some damage if they’re on. And it looks like they’re starting to click.
- Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn’t have to be heroes tonight. Both were held below their scoring and rebounding averages, while Westbrook was held below his assist average. To me, that’s a good thing. The Thunder is going to need balance like tonight going forward.
- After five players finished with at least four assists Wednesday against Houston, four players had at least five assists tonight. The Thunder had 23 assists, the fourth time in five games the team has registered at least 23 assists. Said Durant: “We’re moving the basketball very well right now. I think we’re running our plays and executing. In shootarounds is when we start to get prepared for the games. We run our sets hard in shootaround. Everybody gets a touch and we kind of translate that into the game. I’m excited about what we’re doing right now. We’ve got to continue to keep moving it and find a good shot.”
- The Thunder shot 21 of 33 at the foul line tonight. But that 63.6 percent isn’t the worst performance from the stripe this season. In that stinker at the L.A. Clippers back on Nov. 3, the Thunder shot 15 of 27, or 55.6 percent. Durant, who entered the game leading the league at 91.7 percent from the foul line, missed four freebies, including two straight when he baited a defender into fouling him on a 3-point attempt. Said Brooks: “I’m sure the next (game) our guys is going to step up with confidence and knock those down.”
- DeMarcus Cousins looks like a man among boys already. He had 19 points and 16 rebounds tonight. Not sure I would touch him if I ran a team. But he can play.
- That’s now five straight wins for the Thunder, the second time this season OKC has strung together that many. The most impressive thing over this streak? Hands down second-half defense. The Thunder has given up an average of just 38.8 points in the second half in the past five wins.
- And in case you don’t know by now, the Thunder might catch a break to end this four-game home stand. Phoenix guard Steve Nash left tonight’s game at Dallas with a stinger in his neck. Nash did not return and there were reports of him having numbness in his neck area. That obviously would be a huge loss for the Suns and a huge gain for the Thunder on Sunday. (Update: upon further review.)
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