SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Before the team bus had pulled out of the station at Oracle Arena on Wednesday night, Russell Westbrook was busy telling any teammate who would listen how eager he was to wash out the taste of that loss to the Warriors.
“He told me after the game in Golden State that he couldn’t wait to the next game and come out and play,” said Kendrick Perkins. “He wanted to win. So I knew what he was going to come out and try to do.”
Westbrook ultimately did whatever he wanted in the Thunder’s 105-95 win at Sacramento on Friday night.
The Thunder point guard was phenomenal as he orchestrated the offense and ultimately overpowered the Kings, scoring 18 points with a game-high 14 assists that were two shy of tying his career high and one less than the Kings’ team total.
“He was great,” said Kevin Martin. “He’s a special point guard. He wasn’t looking to score too much. He was just making the right play all night.”
Two nights earlier, Westbrook scored just 10 points on 3 for 16 shooting with six turnovers in that five-point loss to the Warriors. His defense was possibly worse than his offense, as Warriors point guard Stephen Curry erupted for a team-high 31 points.
Westbrook, however, said he was focused on winning rather than bouncing back individually.
“Just coming in trying to win,” Westbrook said when asked his mind-set entering the Kings game on the heels of his worst performance of the year. “Right now it doesn’t matter what the numbers look like. All we need to do is win.”
Westbrook went on to say it was easy for him to shake off Wednesday’s game.
“Very easy,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got 82 games. For you to hang your head on one game that we had an opportunity to win, it doesn’t matter.
“You have nights like that. There’s nobody in this league that’s going to play 82 games and not have some letdowns. So I’m not really worried about that.”
The Thunder improved to 34-10 and 3-2 on this six-game road trip thanks a dominating 24 minutes in the second and third quarters. In those middle periods, the Thunder outscored the Kings 59-37, building a 25-point lead late in the third frame and before refusing to allow Sacramento to pull within single digits in the fourth period.
Kevin Durant and Martin paced all players with 24 points each. Serge Ibaka added 14 points, and Thabo Sefolosha scored 10. Durant added a game-high 11 rebounds and five assists.
The Thunder held bruising Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins in check, completing one of its chief pregame goals. Cousins entered the night averaging a team-leading 18.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. After a torrid start, he finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven turnovers. Nine of his points came in the first period. In the final three quarters, Cousins’ five points came on 2 for 9 shooting.
“I just said he wasn’t going to hit those shots all night,” said Perkins, who got the bulk of the duty. “He’s a gifted player, so you got to expect him to come out and keep shooting. I just said as long as I keep him taking contested 2s, eventually he was going to have to miss one.”
Before Westbrook got rolling, the Thunder struggled. Oklahoma City got off to a terrible start early in the first quarter, trailing 23-9 midway through the period thanks to lapses on defense and lots of misses on offense. At that point, it looked like Cousins was headed for the exact type of big game Thunder coach Scott Brooks repeatedly said before the contest that OKC couldn’t allow him to have.
Cousins coupled with Kings power forward Jason Thompson to score 18 points with seven rebounds in the first quarter, helping Sacramento rack up 18 points in the paint in the period.
But that terrible start only set up a terrific finish to the frame. The Thunder went on a 14-3 run to pull within three with 1:45 remaining in the period. Westbrook scored or assisted on 10 of the Thunder’s points during the spurt. He found Martin on back-to-back 3-pointers and capped the run with a dish to Nick Collison off a pick and roll.
The Thunder trailed by three at the end of the first quarter but took control in the second, outscoring Sacramento 31-21 to take a seven-point halftime lead. Westbrook scored eight of his points in the period, while Durant and Martin both chipped in nine.
Most of Westbrook’s damage as a playmaker came in the third quarter, when he registered eight assists, tying a team record for assists in a period, and leading the Thunder to its largest lead of the night.
With his work long done, Westbrook didn’t need to log a single second in the final period.
Oklahoma City finished with 27 assists on 37 made field goals and shot 48.7 percent.
“We were passing up good shots to get great shots,” Durant said. “Guys were sacrificing shots.”
The Thunder is now 9-1 after a loss and moved a step closer to completing this franchise-record six-game trip on the exact high note it seeks. A Sunday matinee game against the Los Angeles Lakers is now the last remaining hurdle.
“Just like we talk about during games, you’ve got to finish strong. You’ve got to have a great fourth quarter. You have to get the final stop,” Brooks said. “It’s the same thing on a road trip.”