SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Isaiah Thomas had the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
And on a late Tuesday night in Sacramento — with Thomas scorching hot down the stretch — that wasn't an appealing proposition for the Thunder.
“The little guy got hot,” Scott Brooks said. “And we couldn't turn it off.”
That is, until the final possession, when Russell Westbrook stood up the Kings' lightning quick 5-foot-9 point guard on the perimeter, forcing Thomas into a contested jumper.
It clanged off the rim, sealing a narrow 97-95 Thunder victory over the pesky Kings and extending OKC's league-best win streak to eight.
Thomas was the star in crunch time, coming off the Kings bench to score 21 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter. He kept the game interesting when it was on the verge of getting out of hand.
But it was another sixth man, possibly one of Thomas' lead competitors for the league's yearly award, who was one of the key reasons OKC had that lead to nearly blow in the first place.
In 31 minutes, Reggie Jackson had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Solid, but not monster numbers from OKC's emerging third-year guard, until you look at the most telling statistic: Jackson had a game-high plus/minus of plus-16.
With his growing confidence and playmaking ability, the Thunder has just been a better team with him on the court lately.
On Tuesday night, he first entered the game late in the first quarter, with the Thunder trailing the Kings by 10. He didn't take a seat until halftime, with OKC leading by three. Then, after the Kings tied it up late in the third quarter, Jackson re-entered. Over the next five minutes, OKC went on a game-changing 18-0 run, sparked by Jackson's playmaking.
“He's just growing, getting better, making the right plays,” Kevin Durant said of Jackson. “He's the guy we kind of go to down there in the fourth.”
High praise from one of the NBA's best closers, who had 27 points and 11 rebounds to pace OKC on Tuesday night. But Jackson is backing up that confidence.
In a recent win over the Spurs, Jackson had 14 points in the fourth. Then this past Sunday against Minnesota, he had 11 on 5-of-5 shooting in the deciding quarter.
And on Tuesday night, he had five of the game's biggest points, drilling a late 3-pointer and scoring on an easy blow-by layup in the final six minutes.
The Thunder's team-wide performance was a spotty one, narrowly holding off one of the league's worst teams playing without its best player (DeMarcus Cousins was out with an injury).
But Jackson's continued emergence in crunch time was again the biggest positive.
He wasn't the most explosive reserve on the floor Tuesday night — that title belonged to Isaiah Thomas — but Jackson may have been the most influential.