by Charlie O. Mallonee
The Sacramento Kings entered the homestretch of the NBA season knowing that they needed to really improve their record versus Western Conference teams. As they began the game in Oklahoma City on Saturday night, Sacramento was 16-22 on the season versus Western Conference foes and just 5-12 playing those teams on the road.
After losing a heartbreaker to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, the Kings had to travel to OKC to face the Thunder who feature Russell Westbrook – “the King of the triple-double” – and the potential 2018-19 MVP Paul George who own the third spot in the Western Conference.
OKC was coming off a tough Friday night
The Thunder hosted the Utah Jazz on Friday night and had to really battle to come away with a victory. That game went into two overtimes before the Thunder finally put the Jazz away 148-147.
Paul George had to play 50-minutes. Russell Westbrook spent almost 43 minutes on the floor before fouling out in the first overtime.
The Kings needed to take advantage of the Thunder playing in the second game of a back-to-back set, especially when the first game went into double overtime.
First half perfection
The Kings did exactly what they needed to do in the first 24-minutes of the game. Sacramento shot 50-percent (25/50) from the floor. They struggled a bit from downtown hitting just 3-of-12 (33.3%) from long range. They dished out 16 assists while turning the ball over just six times. Those six turnovers resulted in eight Thunder points.
Buddy Hield led the SAC scoring attack with 18 points in the half. He went 8-for-12 shooting including two 3-pointers. Bogdan Bogdanovic added 12 points by going 4-for-6 from the floor. Marvin Bagley III came off the bench to score 11 points and grab six rebounds.
To no one’s surprise, Russell Westbrook led the charge for Oklahoma City who looked tired and out of sync right from the opening tip-off. Westbrook put 18 points in the book while Paul George was the next leading scorer with seven points.
The Thunder shot just 35.8-percent (19/53) from the field. The had just eight assists and turned the ball over eight times which resulted in 12 Sacramento points.
At the end of the first half, the Kings held a 63-49 lead over the Thunder.
The second half had to mean a Thunder comeback
Even if they are tired, a visiting team cannot expect to keep a talented team like the Thunder from making big runs in order to get back into the game.
The Thunder went on an 18-6 run to begin the third quarter and cut the Kings lead to just two points with 7:29 to go in the period. The Kings woke up and began to play their game. Sacramento went back up by 14 points with 2:24 remaining in the quarter.
With 36-minutes in the book, the Kings still held a 94-83 lead, but everyone had a feeling that the Thunder were not ready to give up.
The final 12:00
OKC used a combination of strong play from Dennis Schroder, Paul George, Markieff Morris and of course, Russell Westbrook to fight their way back into the game one more time. By the 6:26 mark, the Thunder had cut the Kings lead to three points.
Russell Westbrook would go on to score 15 of the 33 points the Thunder would score in the quarter. The lead changed four times in the period. OKC outscored SAC 33-25 in the final 12-minutes which is what made it such a close game.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Kings free throw shooting down the stretch allowed them to hang on and win the game 119-116.
Kings by the numbers
The win raised the Kings record to 31-28 on the season which allows them to remain in sole possession of ninth place in the Western Conference. The Clippers beat the Grizzlies so they are 1.5 games ahead in eighth place. The Lakers lost to the Pelicans (even with Anthony Davis held out of the game) which means they are now two games back of the Kings in 10th place.
- Buddy Hield led the SAC scoring attack with 34 points. “Buddy Buckets” hit 12-of-22 shots overall and went 3-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line. He also was very effective from the free throw line converting 7-of-9 opportunities.
- Marvin Bagley III recorded a double-double by scoring 19 points and hauling 10 rebounds. MB35 also added three assists, three blocked shots, and two steals.
- De’Aaron Fox also scored 19 points in the game. He also dished out nine assists, blocked three shots and added a steal.
- The Kings outscored the Thunder 48-46 in the Paint
- The Thunder won the battle of 2nd Chance Points 16-7
- Even though they were tired, OKC scored more Fast Break Points than the Kings 25-19
- SAC shot 45.8-percent (44/96) for the game
- They hit 7-of-19 (36.8%) from long range
- The Kings converted 24-of-34 (70.6%) from the free throw line. The key was the number of opportunities.
- The team was out-rebounded 59-46 and still managed to win the game
- Protecting the ball has become a key trait for Sacramento. They turned the ball over just nine times which resulted in 15 OKC points.
- The Kings recorded 24 assists which denotes excellent ball movement
Checking the book for OKC
Key individuals performances:
- Russell Westbrook was the game’s high scorer with 41 points. Westbrook connected on 15-of-30 field goal attempts and made 5-of-12 3-point shots. He also had a good night at the charity stripe converting 6-of-8 opportunities. Westbrook made it a double-double game by adding 10 rebounds.
- Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 14 points. The German transplant went 5-for-12 shooting.
- Paul George also scored 14 points but he was 4-for-19 shooting for the contest. That 50-plus minutes of playing time on Friday obviously took its toll.
- Markieff Morris put 10 points playing some key minutes late in the game for George.
- The key number you need to know is the field goal shooting percentage. The Thunder shot just 38.1-percent (40/105) for the game. A team almost never wins a game in the NBA when they shoot under 40-percent. Yet, OKC came within four points of putting this game in the win column.
The Kings wrap up this 3-game road trip on Monday in Minnesota versus the Timberwolves.
The Thunder will return to action on Tuesday on the road in Denver against the Nuggets.