Thunder 113, Kings 103
Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s win over Sacramento.
- Russell Westbrook was in one of those moods after this one. He tried to duck out of the locker room before reporters could interview him. And he was stingy with his words after one brave soul refused to let him off the hook. But the thing about it is he had no reason to be such a poor sport. He had just played one of his best games of floor general this season.
- Westbrook scored 13 points with a game- and season-high 13 assists to lead the Thunder to a rather routine victory over sad sack Sacramento. He missed nine of 13 shots but that hardly mattered. He got everyone involved early and kept them going as threats late. And he had only three turnovers, but even those are misleading thanks to his big men bobbling perfectly good passes out of bounds.
- Maybe that’s why Westbrook was such a sour patch kid. He was three assists shy of tying his career high in that category. Had his big men hung onto the ball better, he easily could have gotten there and beyond.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks obviously can relate. “Our bigs are going to have to continue to be ready to catch the ball because he’s looking and he’s finding,” Brooks said. “And we’ve done a good job with our spacing and I think that’s helping him and helping all of our players.”
- There’s no telling whether Westbrook was miffed at his big men for their mittens tonight or something else. He of course isn’t the type to throw teammates under the bus, and he clearly wasn’t interested in providing any additional insight afterward so we’re left to assume. But there’s one other thing that could have been bugging him.
- That was the fact that Westbrook had to retake the court in the fourth quarter. The Thunder had this game won. Decisively. Then the bench blew it. Big time. OKC’s starters built a 20-point lead in the second quarter and maintained a double-digit lead throughout the third quarter. The bench started the fourth ahead by 14. The B team ballooned the lead to as many as 24 with 7:53 remaining. And that’s when the wheels came shooting off the school bus.
- Sacramento scooted to an 18-4 run over the next 3 1/2 minutes, pulling within 10 and making it a game again. Brooks had no choice but to bench his bench and re-insert Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
- “It’s good,” Westbrook softly offered when asked his satisfaction level when his assists numbers match his point total. “We just need to do a better job of finishing games.”
- But how about that second-quarter defense, the shutdown stuff that held the Kings to five field goals? “It’s good,” Westbrook said again. “But like I said before, we got to do it for 48 minutes.”
- I couldn’t help but ask Westbrook why he didn’t seem satisfied after such a solid individual performance and, for the most part, a sound win. “I’m not,” he murmured. “I can do better.”
- Tonight was Westbrook’s team-leading ninth double-double of the season and the seventh time he’s recorded at least 10 assists this year. Last season, Westbrook had at least 10 assists only six times, and that included a 20-game postseason run.
- The Thunder moved to 6-1 when Westbrook dishes at least 10 assists.
- You’d have to be blind to not see how things went downhill almost immediately upon Reggie Jackson’s entrance. The second-year point guard who just Wednesday was a spark plug perhaps will be seen as the scapegoat two days later. Jackson checked in with 8:17 left to play and the Thunder ahead by 22. When he sat, the Thunder’s lead had shrunk to 10 with 4:17 remaining. That’s a minus-12 in four minutes of a ball game that, up until Jackson checked in, had been a blowout. That’s bad.
- In his four minutes, Jackson had three turnovers, a bad foul and two assists. The first two turnovers came on back-to-back possessions. Both resulted in Kings points, a 3 by Isaiah Thomas and two free throws by Jimmer Fredette. It was Jackson who committed the bad foul right after his turnover that sent Jimmer to the line.
- With that said, I wouldn’t blame the worst part of this game on Jackson alone. I’ve already said. His minutes were bad. But it’s not like he was the only one on the court for the Thunder. Just like you can’t attribute what the Thunder did in the final 12 minutes Wednesday solely to Jackson, you can’t fault only Jackson tonight. The other four Thunder players are responsible, too. Nick Collison made a bad pass. DeAndre Liggins missed a layup. Kevin Martin missed a shot. The spacing on offense was bad. And Sacramento got hot against the entire team’s defense. So by no means was Jackson the lone culprit.
- Brooks on that terrible stretch: “I didn’t like to lose the lead like we did, but I still have confidence. We have great confidence in how we close games. We have things that we do, and our guys are confident. There’s no question I didn’t want to put our guys back in. But we always have that ability. It’s not like the guys tried to play bad. They just had a bad stretch.”
- Of course, Durant took blame for the bad ball in the fourth. He was one of several who were visibly ticked that it had gotten to that point. Durant slammed a towel as Brooks called the timeout to get KD, Russ and Ibaka back in. “It was just a little frustration that they came back, because I thought we were playing so well,” Durant said. “We have tough stretches like that…But I date that back to the start of the third. The starters got to do a better job of coming out with more energy the first five minutes and maybe that wouldn’t have happened in the fourth. Maybe we wouldn’t have ave them a little bit of confidence going into that fourth. So we just have to be better and I think we will.”
- Durant did very little wrong, folks. He had a game-high 31 points on 1o of 14 shooting and made all nine of his free throws in 36 minutes. Nothing about this one is on his shoulders.
- KD did have six turnovers, which is way too many. But most of those came from trying to make passes. I’ve explained several times why he needs to continue to share the ball. But here’s what Durant’s got to stop doing: trying to thread the needle. If you notice, most of his bad-pass turnovers are a result of trying to force a pass and fit it into a small window. It’s got to stop. He’s wasting possessions.
- Like Westbrook, Durant also had a few go through the hands of his big men tonight.
- The best way to get the big men to catch? Stop throwing it to them. Might sound backwards, but trust me, if they want the ball bad enough they’ll quickly learn how to start catching it.
- Something else I noticed. Whenever the bigs don’t catch a pass from Westbrook, it has a domino effect that can get pretty dangerous in a hurry. Westbrook has a tendency to come down and jack up the next shot, either a 3, a pull-up jumper or an out-of-control layup. One of the three is almost guaranteed to happen. It kills his rhythm and the team’s.
- Westbrook probably missed another four layups tonight. If he makes those, he’s got 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go with his 13 assists.
- Brooks on Westbrook: “The way he’s been playing the last 10 games is as good as any point guard in this league. He finds guys. That’s what we want.”
- Durant on Westbrook: “He’s a great passer. He’s getting into the lane and making the right decisions. I wish I could have made a few for him. I wish we could have caught a few more for him and maybe he would have had his career high in assists tonight. But he still had 13 of them. He’s doing a great job of just facilitating and making our offense work. Coach is trusting him with the ball and he’s making the right plays.”
- More from Brooks on Westbrook: “I thought Russell did a terrific job to start the game and in that first half (with) his passing. He was getting guys easy shots. He was demanding a double team and kicking it out quickly.”
- With less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, Westbrook had 11 assists and the Kings entire team had 11. Sacramento finished the period with 12.
- Eric Maynor played well tonight and had a season-high seven assists to show for it. But I can’t blame Brooks for giving Jackson an opportunity in the final nine minutes. Again, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say Jackson deserves a chance and then when he gets it in what should be an open-and-shut fourth quarter rip the coach. Brooks was trying to get Jackson minutes wherever possible, which is what he’s said from the start that he tries to do with all his players who aren’t in the rotation but capable of producing. It’s unfortunate that the opportunity came on Maynor’s solid night and it stinks that Jackson had a bad game. But it wasn’t a bad call.
- How hot did the Kings get? Isaiah Thomas had 26 points in 16 minutes. And 23 of those came in the fourth quarter.
- DeMarcus Cousins is not at all interested in defense. I don’t watch him enough to know if that’s an every night thing or if it was just because he was guarding Kendrick Perkins. What I did notice is that on several possessions, Cousins began laughing while playing defense whenever Perk got it on the block.
- Remember when a lot of Thunder heads wanted Tyreke Evans over James Harden? What the heck happened to Evans?
- Tommy Tutone was the halftime entertainment tonight. Lead singer Tommy Heath was a one-man band, singing the group’s hit single “867-5309/Jenny.” I think it’s safe to say it was unanimously deemed a disaster. He was out of tune, off beat and barely capable of delivering the lines. I honestly didn’t know if he was high as a kite or had forgotten the words to his own hit. Memo to the Thunder: from now on let’s leave the 80s in the 80s.
- The Thunder went 22-for-22 from the stripe tonight, which seemed to surprise some people asking the questions after the game.
- That’s now a OKC era record 10 straight wins for the Thunder. At 19-4, the Thunder also is off to its best start in Oklahoma City history. I’m sure if any of that comes up in interview sessions the Thunder will assure you that everybody’s just trying to get better every day.
- Up next. San Antonio on Monday.
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