Thunder 118, Kings 110
Nuggets from my notebook from Tuesday's win over Sacramento.
- First, the most significant news of the night. James Harden did not play as expected as he continues recovering from a concussion. He continues to be day-to-day like the rest of us. Harden wasn't even in the arena tonight, likely to avoid the bright lights for precautionary reasons. He must continue to go through the league-mandated protocol before being cleared to play. It's unlikely that he'll play Wednesday against Denver.
- By now you know Metta World Peace got a seven-game suspension for the elbow that took out Harden. I think that's fair. In fact, I thought five games would have been fair. Obviously, most Thunder heads feel that's far too lenient.
- World Peace apologized again Sunday on his website to Thunder fans and the Thunder organization.
- Kendrick Perkins probably thinks World Peace can take his apology and stick it somewhere. Before the game, Perk changed his tune from Sunday, when he was the only Thunder player to stick up for World Peace immediately after the game. "During the game, I didn’t really get a chance to see the play until I got home that night," Perkins said. "And that was just uncalled for. So I really don’t have any sympathy for a guy that does something like that. He could have really hurt James in a serious way. Anytime you do an intentional blow like that to the head it’s just uncalled for."
- For what it's worth, Kevin Durant said he's confident Harden will be back in time for the first round. Royal Ivey said Harden is in "good spirits"
- As for this game. It was unfortunate, but the Thunder took the Kings lightly early and let them erupt offensively in the first period. And at least from my vantage point, it seemed to stem from Durant's chase for the scoring title. Durant's not at fault for the Thunder's lousy defense, which allowed the Kings to light up the scoreboard early. But it definitely didn't look like his pursuit helped the Thunder come out with a defensive disposition. And Durant definitely was gunning for a good amount of points from the start.
- Durant started 3-of-3 for eight points and was in rhythm from the start. He didn't force shots, but he had more of a pep in his step than we've seen lately and he certainly didn't pass up many looks. At the end of the opening quarter, he 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting and was well on his way to a nice 32 point night in 32 minutes. Neither Durant nor any other starter played a single second in the fourth quarter.
- With his point total tonight, Durant bumped his narrow lead over Kobe Bryant in the scoring race to .11 points. The official averages are 27.97 points for Durant to Bryant's 27.86 points. Here's my story on the final showdown to decide it all.
- Food for thought: If Durant scores 20 or less Wednesday against Denver, Kobe doesn't have to play Thursday and Bryant will win the scoring title. If Durant doesn't play Wednesday (not happening), Bryant would need to score 35 to take over the lead and win the scoring title.
- Thunder GM Sam Presti, in a very Presti-like manner, said he hopes the scoring race doesn't become a focal point for his team. "I hope we're not that focused on scoring titles," Presti said. "And I don't believe that Kevin is laying awake at night trying to ensure that he's on that list. I think he's developed to a point, and organizationally we're at a point, where those are great if it's a byproduct of the games themselves and the work themselves like anything else. I hope we are focused on quality of play and not production and I believe we are. And that's a compliment to Kevin and the things that are important to him and how they align with the things that are important to our organization."
- Back to that first quarter. The Kings scored 40 points in the period, setting an opponent high against the Thunder in any quarter this season. Sacramento shot an incredible 18-of-22 from the field in the opening quarter. Somewhere, that’s a record, I’m sure.
- Fittingly, Isaiah Thomas buried a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the period to put Sacramento up five.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on his team's defense: "Our defense was playing in spurts tonight and it wasn't good enough like we've been all season."
- There’s a ton to not like about Tyreke Evans’ game. But I love the guy.
- If you’re wondering what I love about Tyreke, go back and watch the driving layup he put in with 10:12 left in the third quarter. It doesn’t get much better.
- The Thunder trailed by as many as 13 early in the second quarter. But the outcome of this game never was in doubt. It was always pretty much clear that the Thunder would come back and win.
- What we didn't see coming is how the Thunder won it. Got to give a ton of credit to the bench mob. The Thunder's second and third string guys outplayed Sacramento's starters down the stretch and secured this win. Ivey, Derek Fisher, Daequan Cook, Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich had The Peake rocking in the fourth quarter. That five-man unit played the entire fourth quarter and outscored the Kings 36-24.
- Cook did most of the damage, scoring all of his season-high 19 points in the final period. He made 6-of-9 shots in the quarter and went 4-of-5 from deep. It was only his third double-digit scoring game since March 15. The guy was on fire. As soon as he caught the ball he was letting it fly. I mean, zero hesitation. For a good little stretch, the Thunder's offense was running every play for Cook.
- Cook: "I was in a great rhythm. I felt pretty good out there. Guys were giving me great looks and I was knocking them down."
- Cook obviously has curiously been missing from the rotation, save four minutes at the start of each second quarter for KD. But Cook took the high road and vowed to continue to be positive. "I'm never going to stop working," Cook said. "At the end of the day, I know my role on this team and it's important for me to continue to work every day toward that role and continue to get better as a player and as a teammate; and whenever coach calls my name to always perform to the best of my abilities."
- Cook admitted that he's not fully healed from a knee injury that cost him seven games in late March and early April. He didn't give a percentage of where he is but jokingly said he's better after tonight.
- Brooks on Cook: "The thing I loved about his game tonight is he missed his first couple of shots and didn't get down on himself. He came back and stayed aggressive. D.C. is a terrific shooter, but he has to continue to believe in that shot and keep shooting it. I thought the last five or six games, when he missed a shot, he kind of got down on himself and was concerned about the next one. If you do that, you can never make the next shot. It's always about the next shot if you're a shooter like he is. I like the fact that he came back and made a bunch of big shots for us."
- One last thing on Cook. I learned tonight that he's not very good at using off-ball screens to get open. Either that or Thomas' tiny tail is incredible at not allowing himself to get screened.
- Again, Brooks rested his main guys tonight as he's hinted he would in these final two games. He said keeping the bench unit in for the entire fourth was "somewhat the general plan." Brooks said he wanted to make sure everybody got an opportunity to play some good minutes.
- Potentially lost in this win will be another cold shooting night by Russell Westbrook. He scored 13 points on 13 shots tonight, effectively continuing his shooting slump and dropping his field goal percentage this month to an even 38 percent. If there was anybody's shot on this team that I wouldn't worry about it's Westbrook's, though. His ability to attack the rim and score from the paint or draw free throws will always be a weapon he can rely on. He's not dependent on actual jump shots. So come playoff time, I think he'll be fine.
- Aside from Harden's condition, the saddest thing about the elbow that knocked him out is the fans who get the short end of the stick. You gotta believe there was a fan attending their first game tonight. Two thoughts about that: 1) It's a shame they didn't get to see Harden. 2) It's a shame their first game was the Kings!
- I would expect the Thunder before tip-off Wednesday to unveil its banner to honor the team as the 2011-12 Northwest Division champion. It's the second straight season that the Thunder has won the division title. I asked Presti about when it would be unveiled but he declined to give a timeline. "We’re certainly proud of it, but we can reflect back on it later," Presti said. "Right now, our focus is on finishing the regular season strong and preparing for the postseason."
- If the banner is unleashed Wednesday, it'll be kind of cool that Thunder fans get to gloat in front of Denver. Stinks that the Nuggets will have to see it.
- Somebody want to explain to me why Jimmer Fredette is so gun shy? Shoot the freaking ball!!
- Serge Ibaka had only one block for just the second time this month.
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