SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nothing ever comes easy when the Thunder travels to Sacramento.
This trip was no different.
Once again, Oklahoma City had to go down to the wire against the Kings inside Power Balance Pavilion, this time hanging on for a 103-92 victory on Friday night before an animated crowd of 16,882.
Though the game never was in any real doubt, it wasn't the complete and utterly thorough thumping you'd expect the title-contending Thunder to enjoy against a squad simply playing out the string. Though the Thunder never trailed in the second half, OKC didn't put away the Kings until Kevin Durant drilled a 19-footer from the left baseline with 21.6 seconds remaining to stave off yet another stunning defeat to a team that is now tied for the worst record in the Western Conference.
“They play well here,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of the Kings. “I give coach (Keith) Smart a lot of credit. He has the team playing hard. You have to play well to beat them, and they always have a lot of energy in this building.”
The Thunder moved to 5-3 all time in the franchise's Oklahoma City era against the Kings in their home building. Friday's win was the Thunder's first double-digit victory in Sacramento, bumping the average margin of victory to a mere 5.6 points.
Fortunately for the Thunder, the fourth and final meeting between these two comes in Oklahoma City on Tuesday in the second-to-last game of the regular season for the Thunder.
In the meantime, the Thunder marched on to 46-17 and 21-11 on the road after recorded its fourth win in five games. OKC now has a chance to finish its current five-game road trip at 4-1 with a win Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Durant led a balanced attack with 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, all game-highs. And it was no surprise that Durant needed just 15 shots (making nine) for his point total.
“Kevin was solid,” Brooks said. “That was a solid game. He filled up the stat sheet in just about every positive other than the four turnovers.”
Four Thunder players attempted at least 11 shots, and no Thunder player attempted more than Durant and Russell Westbrook's 15. As a result, five Thunder players finished with at least 10 points, including defensive cogs Serge Ibaka (12 points, six rebounds, eight blocks) and Kendrick Perkins (10 points, seven rebounds).
“We always want to move the ball,” Durant said. “If a guy has it going, we're going to give him the ball. But everybody had it tonight.”
The Thunder had to shake off a shaky first half in which the offense was clicking — as evidenced by 59.5 percent shooting — but the defense couldn't close out possessions. OKC allowed Sacramento to pull down 15 offensive rebounds in the firsts 24 minutes. Over that same span, the Thunder had just one.
Amazingly, the Kings converted just two-of-12 of its second chance opportunities and had just two putback points in that span.
“We did a couple of things well in the second half,” Brooks said. “I thought we made them miss shots, and when we did that we rebounded the basketball. They got 15 offensive rebounds in the first half and only two in the second half.”
The difference was noticeable to everyone.
“They're a tight-knit group,” said Kings rookie guard Jimmer Fredette. “They really, really are playing for each other.”