The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Sacramento Kings, 110-94. After the teams went back and forth for the first 6 minutes of the game, the Thunder used an 11-0 run to essentially put the game away for good. I know, you can’t completely put a game away with two minutes left in the first quarter. But with the way the Thunder are playing as a team of late, and with how inexperienced the Kings currently are, the game was basically out of reach for Sacramento from that point on. Here are five thoughts from this afternoon’s game.
1. The Kings have potential with their young guys.
I left most impressed with Kings’ rookie center Georgios Papagiannis. The Greek big man scored a team high 14 points and grabbed 11 boards. Both stats were career highs. He’s a big body with enough mobility to defend in space. He reminds me a lot of Adams as a rookie, but with a little more refinement to his offensive game. If you look at his season as a whole, this game would seem to be an outlier. But what I saw was something the Kings could build off of.
Rookie forward Skal Labissiere scored a career high 32 points in his last game, but struggled in this one scoring 13 points and grabbing 4 boards in 18 minutes of action. He had trouble with the Thunder’s size and found himself getting into foul trouble early on. He just turned 21, so his future is bright, but this just wasn’t his day. And then hometown boy, Buddy Hield, again struggled with his shot, going just 2/8 from deep to finish with 11 points.
If the Kings can somehow keep that core together for a couple years, they may have something. But the Kings will Kangz at some point, so I’m not holding my breath.
2. Russell Westbrook chase for the triple-double.
If you watched this game, then you were probably wondering what the hell Westbrook was still doing in the game with two minutes left, and the Thunder up by 18. And you wouldn’t be wrong in wondering that. For all the debate there is regarding Westbrook’s supposed stat-chasing, this game did him no favors. Westbrook was asked whether it crosses his mind when he’s lacking a couple stats to complete a triple-double. His response was about as Westbrookian as it could be: “Nah man, I just play, bro.”
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan was asked the same question, and his response was more measured. “I got to be honest with you. I don’t follow it (the stats) during the game. I have no idea. So anytime I’m making a decision, there’s never a decision being made on what somebody’s statistical line is for me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help our team be put in the best position to win and play to the best of our ability.”
Whether he was stat-chasing or not, really doesn’t matter. And it also doesn’t matter that he played the final 8 minutes of the game to get his game total up to 36 minutes. The Thunder have done a good job of managing Westbrook’s minutes this entire season and he only played three quarters in the Thunder’s previous outing. Stats are a necessary part of the game. You need to accumulate stats to win. If you happen to get a triple-double in the process, then great. But this outcry that Westbrook’s triple-doubles are inflated is asinine, to say the least. If he didn’t play the way he did, the Thunder offense wouldn’t be as good as it is (and it isn’t great to begin with).
3. Steven Adams finally puts together a complete game.
For about the past month, Adams seems to be struggling with something. Be it nagging injuries, fatigue, or just the frustration from constantly having bodies around him every time he touches the ball, the Thunder big man has been a shell of himself for much of the past month. For January and pre All-Star February, Adams was a near double-double machine, averaging about 12 and 9 for that time. But since the All-Star break, Adams’ numbers dropped to 9.7 points and 6.9 boards.
Tonight’s performance is hopefully a break out to where Adams needs to be heading into the playoffs. He was 6/7 from the field, but most importantly, 4/6 from the line. That’s probably his biggest struggle since the turn of the year. If he is able to get a couple points from the free throw line every game, that should help out his points per game average. Adams played within himself and didn’t try to force anything.
His offensive rebounding in the first quarter set up the run that basically put the game away for the Thunder. His ability to offensive rebound when all eyes are basically on Westbrook, is a big part of the Thunder’s offensive schema. If he can do that consistently, the Thunder can hang with a lot of the contending teams in the West.
4. Andre Roberson made Buddy Hield’s life a living hell.
Buddy Hield returned to his college hometown area, but the Thunder didn’t provide a welcoming red carpet. Instead, they deployed their perimeter bulldog, Andre Roberson. Hield struggles against length, and there’s no more lengthy defender than Roberson. In fact, the Thunder’s main defensive focus was on the perimeter, and they held the Kings to 5/21 shooting from deep. Hield did provide two of those makes, but he also provided eight of the attempts.
The thing with Hield is that once you take away his three-point shot, he has little else to use. He still has not developed that facet of his offensive game, and it stunts him when he goes against a defender like Roberson.
5. Doug McDermott
This is what the Thunder have been wanting in a floor spacing wing for the past few years. McDermott’s ability to not only hoist it from deep, but also put it on the floor and make a play is the type of dual threat the Thunder have needed next to Westbrook for years. This was McDermott’s best game as a Thunder player, and possibly, the best game of his career. He was in rhythm in all of his shots and when the defense collapsed on him, he just dribbled past them and made the mid-range shot.
What truly separates McDermott from, say, Anthony Morrow, is the fact that he can move around on the perimeter. McDermott will never be Andre Roberson defensively, but he can stay in front of his man and is big enough to handle most threes and some small ball fours. It will be interesting to see how McDermott and the Thunder build from this one.
This game was not a pretty one to watch. The Thunder played choppy at times and the Kings could not capitalize. The bench looked good for the Thunder, as McDermott scored his Thunder high of 21 points, while Enes Kanter chipped in with 14. But outside of that, this game really wasn’t that aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. The Kings just aren’t that good and the Thunder are that much better than them. About the only thing that could be taken from this game was the fact the Thunder were supposed to beat the Kings, and they did.