SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Before this four-game trip snaked through Sacramento, the Thunder spent some time getting back to the basics, hoping the final two contests wouldn’t conclude like the first pair.
Oklahoma City hit the film room for an hour at the start of Tuesday morning’s shootaround, poring over fundamental principles that could perhaps spark the subpar defense on display in Houston and Phoenix.
Progress was the goal, not perfection.
“This is the NBA,” said Derek Fisher. “It’s not easy to just say you’re going to play better defense and you just go out and blanket people and keep them from scoring.”
That didn’t stop the Thunder from trying, and nearly succeeding, against the shorthanded Kings, shutting them down at the start of the fourth quarter before turning a once-competitive contest into a much-needed 107-92 blowout victory.
“There’s no question we did get better tonight,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
It was something to build on, particularly because the renewed defensive focus coincided with the return of Thabo Sefolosha, who missed the previous 17 games because of a calf injury. Sefolosha took his customary place as the starting shooting guard but played just 15 minutes while being worked back in slowly. He scored two points with three rebounds, an assist and some solid defense on Kings guard Ben McLemore.
Kevin Durant led the team with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting, coming short of 25 points for the first time in 42 games. He got his wish, as his 41-game streak came to an unceremonious end as he sat the entire fourth quarter while the Thunder’s reserves turned an eight-point lead at the end of three into a 24-point cushion.
Durant’s streak stands as the third longest over a single season in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain (80) and Oscar Robertson (46).
“When I sit back after the season’s over, that’s when I’ll reflect on everything, what I’ve done, what the team’s done,” Durant said. “I’m sure I’ll appreciate it then, but now I’m just focusing on game to game and how we can get better as a group and how I can help the team get better. I was getting so many texts after every game, I’m glad that’s over with.”
Caron Butler matched Durant and tied his best scoring output in a Thunder uniform with 23 points. He made all six of his 3-point attempts. Serge Ibaka scored 19, and Reggie Jackson, starting in place of a resting Russell Westbrook, added 13 points, four rebounds and five assists.
The Thunder finished with a season-low six turnovers, all of them coming in the second half.
Sacramento got a game-high 24 points apiece from DeMarcus Cousins and Travis Outlaw. But the Kings, playing without three starters in Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and Reggie Evans, ran out of gas late and scored just 15 points in the final period. They made just 4 of 18 shots.
“I thought our bench group was great,” said Nick Collison. “It was big to be able to come in and increase the lead and put the game away instead of making it a fourth-quarter game. I think that was really big for us. We needed that.”