Second-Half Defensive Effort Leads Thunder to Victory over Kings

For the second consecutive game, the Oklahoma City Thunder played incredible defense in the second half to rally from a halftime deficit to a lesser-talented foe. Russell Westbrook tallied 19 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists before he was ejected late in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony finished with 20 points and nine rebound, and Paul George had 18 points, five steals, four assists, and four rebounds as the Thunder defeated the Kings 95-88 on Monday night in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder looked incredibly slow to start, and despite Russell Westbrook’s best efforts early in the first quarter, Oklahoma City trailed for nearly the entire period. Westbrook led the way early with eight points and six rebounds, and Steven Adams added in five points and three rebounds, but the Kings had seven different scorers as they finished the first quarter with a 24-20 lead over the Thunder.

The second quarter proved to be much of the same from the Thunder as the defense had gave up too many easy shots and the offense struggled to take care of the ball. Westbrook managed to add in nine more points and five more rebounds, but even he had his downfall as he was responsible for six of the Thunder’s 11 first half turnovers.

With just a little over three minutes left in the period, the Kings took a 48-33 lead over the Thunder, but the Thunder was able to fight back. At the half, Oklahoma City trailed Sacramento 46-52.

The Thunder came out of the locker room after halftime with a much improved effort and focus to play the game. Carmelo Anthony was the X-factor in the third quarter as he racked up 15 of his 20 points as he played the entire period.

Steven Adams added in seven points and five rebounds for the quarter, and after tying the game up less than five minutes into the second half, the Thunder was able to take over the game and finish the third quarter with a 77-68 lead over the Kings.

Billy Donovan went with the all-bench lineup to star the fourth quarter, as has become the standard lately, and despite their inability to score for the first 3:40 of the period, they were able to hold Sacramento to just two points. It was Patrick Patterson who would break the drought for the Thunder, and his six points in the quarter would give him 10 for the game, making him the leading bench scorer for Oklahoma City.

With under three minutes left in the game, the Thunder led 91-80, and the game seemed to be all but over. Russell Westbrook drove to the basket, and after taking a shot to the face, he was whistled for a travel. He took exception to the call, and his outburst earned him him two technicals and an ejection, his first of the season.

The two technicals from Westbrook, followed by a another technical called on Billy Donovan, led to three made free throws by the Kings, and all of a sudden Sacramento only trailed by eight. The Kings tried to mount a comeback, but the Thunder’s defense was able to hold on, while the offense was unable to do much of anything, and when the final buzzer sounded, Oklahoma City was able to move to 24-20 on the season and 15-7 at home.

3 Quick Thoughts

  • A Tale of Two Halves: The first half looked too much like the lazy stylings of Oklahoma City basketball that has been far too common this season. The second half, however, looked like something the Thunder could build upon moving forward. I’m not quite sure what Billy Donovan said in the locker room at the half, but whatever it was, it seemed to work. The team looked more engaged on defense, more focused on sharing the ball on offense, and in the end, it made all the difference. Oklahoma City can manage to play this type of basketball against poor teams like Charlotte and Sacramento and still come away with a win, but when the Thunder take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, they cannot simply wait until the second half to “turn it on.” We are now more than halfway into the season, and it is high time that this team starts playing its best from start to finish.
  • Make Them Fear You: Russell Westbrook played with a high level of intensity from tip-off until he was ejected. He filled up the stat sheet once again, and not because he was trying to pad his stats, but because he was genuinely doing everything he could to get a win for his team. A problem this team has had consistently this season is the inability to step on the neck of opponents. The Sacramento Kings are one of the worst teams in the NBA based on their record, and a double-digit deficit in the first half does not look good for Oklahoma City. Opposing teams are simply not afraid of the Thunder like they are of the more elite teams in the league and rightfully so. If Oklahoma City wants to start putting fear into the hearts of opponents, they have to start playing with the ferocity that Russell Westbrook had whenever he got kicked out of tonight’s game.
  • Keep It Rolling: The wins haven’t been pretty lately, but they still count, and we’ll take them any which way we can get them. The Thunder has an opportunity for another win over a bad team on Wednesday when they host the Los Angeles Lakers, and with the Cleveland Cavaliers on deck on Saturday, Oklahoma City could use a solid win. Only two of the Thunder’s seven remaining games in January are against teams under .500 (Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets). If Oklahoma City really wants to garner some positive attention while simultaneously moving up the standings in the Western Conference, the Thunder needs to pick up some quality wins.

Another One

Next on the schedule, Oklahoma City Thunder will stay at home to host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. The Lakers are 15-28, but they have won four of their last five. The Thunder dominated the Lakers 133-96 in Los Angeles just two weeks ago, and this will be the second of three meetings within a month of one another. The game will tip at 7 PM and will be televised on ESPN and FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1 FM.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

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