CK Press Box Report: Oklahoma City Thunder 97, Sacramento Kings 95

by Jonathan Santiago & James Ham

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Heading into the final frame of Tuesday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings coach Michael Malone told Isaiah Thomas he was being too passive.  The third-year point guard responded to his coach’s criticism with one of his best efforts of the season.

Thomas came off the bench to score 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.  Unfortunately, his valiant effort would fall short as he missed a potential game-tying basket in the Kings’ 97-95 loss to the Thunder at Sleep Train Arena.

“Isaiah Thomas is at his best when he puts pressure on the defense, he attacks, he looks to score,” Malone said after the game. “And then off that, he’ll get other guys involved. When he plays like that, we take on his personality. We got very aggressive, very confident, and he led the charge with that.”

The Kings went scoreless in the final 3:17 of the third period, allowing the Thunder to build a 78-65 lead going into the fourth.  But led by Thomas, the Kings stormed back into the game with a 13-0 run early in the final frame.

“When I got in at the end of the third and the fourth, I just wanted to try to make a difference and I was aggressive,” Thomas said.  “We got in the bonus early and I was just in attack mode and my teammates kept finding me.”

With the exception of a few lapses, the Kings played a pretty solid game defensively.  Kevin Durant scored a game-high 27 points.  But, the Kings’ defense managed to get off to a good start against him in the first period, limiting Durant to just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.

Sacramento’s defense was particularly impressive against Durant’s running-mate Russell Westbrook.  The All-Star guard committed seven turnovers and was held to just 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting in the victory thanks to the defensive effort of rookie Ben McLemore.

“I just tried to go out there with the same defensive principles,” McLemore said of defending Westbrook. “Just go out there and try to slow him down. I overall felt that tonight I think I did pretty well.”

The Kings managed to play one of the league’s elite teams close despite the absence of DeMarcus Cousins.  The Kings starting center sat out his first game of the season due to a sprained right ankle.

“Couldn’t be prouder of them,” Malone said.  “DeMarcus doesn’t play tonight (and) playing against a team that’s 12-3, odds have them as one of the favorites to get to the Finals out of the West and we play them tooth and nail, give ourselves a chance to win. At some point, we’re going to pull these games out.”

Losers of a five straight, the Kings fall to 4-12 overall and 3-8 at home.  They have the next two days off before returning to action Friday night at home against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Notes and Analysis

  • Thomas put on a show tonight in Sacramento, nearly bringing the Kings back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit. After a subpar couple of games and shaky first half, Thomas scored 21 of his 24 points in a wildly entertaining fourth quarter. Thomas missed a 14-foot fadeaway to end the game, but the Kings would have lost by 20 without their super sub off the bench.
  • Chuck Hayes started for the injured Cousins and played extremely well. The veteran forward/center scored six points and grabbed nine rebounds in 18 minutes of action. Hayes played exceptional defense and probably earned a few more minutes in this one.
  • After two-plus seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, there were a lot of questions about Derrick Williams. In his first few games with the Kings, he has done a good job of answering a few of them. In his first real defensive test, Williams played well against Kevin Durant, helping to hold the superstar forward to 8-for-21 shooting. Williams finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, but failed to grab a single rebound in 27 minutes.
  • Fresh off the announcement that he had won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award, Ben McLemore looked energized tonight. The 20-year old finished with 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting and played stellar defense against Westbrook. The Kings now have the athleticism on the wing to hang with just about any team. They just lack the experience.
  • There was a Jason Thompson sighting tonight in Sacramento. The veteran forward finished with his second double-double of the season, but just barely. The Kings can live with 10 points and 10 rebounds from Thompson on a normal night.  But with Cousins missing, it would have been nice to see the Kings feed their longest tenured player in the post.
  • Patrick Patterson had a rough evening. In 33 minutes, P-Pat grabbed a solid 10 rebounds, but scored just three points on 1-for-9 shooting. The Kings had a good thing going down the stretch with the team they had on the floor, but you have to wonder how this game would have turned out if Hayes would have played a few of those late minutes.
  • Isaiah Thomas gave Marcus Thornton every chance to be a hero and the Kings reserve shooting guard came up empty. Thornton scored five points, but shot 2-for-8 from the field and 1-for-5 from downtown, including two huge misses in the fourth with the game on the line. Malone has been waiting for either Thornton or Jimmer to step forward and once again, he is left without an answer.
  • Stat of the Night: After the Thunder went on an 18-0 run in the late third and early fourth, the Kings finished on a 30-15 run down the stretch to make this a game. The also finished with 24 assists and eight turnovers on the night.

Quote of the Game

Thomas on what coach Malone told him immediately following the final buzzer:

I said my bad.  He said, “Don’t ever say my bad.  You’re the one who got us back in the game.  That was a great shot.”  I got the separation I needed.  I just didn’t get the lift on the shot.

Video shot and edited by Tobin Halsey.

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