Kings Catch Fire, Down Thunder 117-113
Russell Westbrook made his triumphant return on Monday night in Sacramento. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Kings played spoiler for the second time this season. Led by 25-points from Buddy Hield and 23 more from Iman Shumpert, the Kings hit 16 three-pointers and routinely attacked a Thunder defense that gave up their most points since November 5 — the night Westbrook went down with his left ankle sprain.
The Kings fired out of the gate, racing out to an 8-0 lead and led by as many as 19 in the first quarter. The Thunder turned it over seven times in the first and Sacramento led 37-24 after one. OKC used a 10-0 run midway through the second quarter to draw within four, however, it was all Shumpert (23 first half points) to close the half — giving the Kings a 69-56 advantage at the break.
The Thunder got off on the right foot to start the second half, opening with an 8-2 run and trimming Sacramento’s lead to 71-64. Despite extremely questionable shot selection from Westbrook, the Thunder were able to grind it out and hang around for most of the quarter — using impactful minutes from Hamidou Diallo to provide the juice. The Thunder defense held the Kings to 5-of-34 (20.8%) shooting in the quarter, and OKC led 85-84 after three.
The fourth quarter saw the Kings march out to a 5-0 start, regain the lead, and force Billy Donovan into an early timeout. They then caught fire from seemingly everywhere, hitting five threes in the quarter and shooting 50 percent across the 12 minutes of basketball. The Thunder hung around long enough to have their chances late, but poor execution (Schroder taking two crunch-time threes?) would eventually be the death of them. Despite OKC making it interesting in the final minute, the Kings protected home court with the 117-113 win.
Westbrook led the way with 29 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals — shooting 12-of-25 and 4-of-10 from long range. George added 27 points and 9 rebounds. Diallo was sensational in relief of Terrance Ferguson (personal), wrapping up his night with a career-high 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting. Steven Adams (11), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (11) also scored in double-figures.
The Thunder will be back in action on Wednesday night inside Oracle Arena. They’ll take on Kevin Durant and the Warriors at 9:30 PM CST on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma.
Return of Russ. Westbrook 37 minutes in his return to action, showing little sign of the ankle injury that cost him six games. While he stuffed the stat sheet with a 29-13-7-3 line and only turned the ball over four times, it almost felt a little awkward reintegrating him into the lineup. He got a little trigger happy at times — and although he hit four of them and a few late to keep it interesting — he shouldn’t attempt 10 three-pointers in any game. Regardless, his heavy workload and no signs of ailment are the most important things. Plenty to smooth out with that out of the way.
Have a Day, Hami. Diallo was instrumental in allowing the Thunder to hang around, posting a career-high 18 points on a perfect 7-of-7 effort from the field — 2-of-2 from long range. Even better, both of his steals led to immediate points in transition. While games like these are an outlier for any rookie second rounder, it’s exactly why expectations for him are so high.
You Have a Three. The Kings blitzed the Thunder from downtown, hitting 16-of-38 for a 42.1 percent success rate. Every time the Thunder seemed ready to make their move, Sacramento answered with the long ball — Hield doing the damage late, hitting 3-of-4 in the fourth quarter alone. The perimeter defense was disappointing after two solid efforts against Devin Booker in the last week.
TLC. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was again impressive with Ferguson out of the lineup, finishing his night with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. He’s now scored in double-figures in two straight games and was a +3 in his 24 minutes.
Bad Dennis. Dennis Schroder had a nightmare of a game after being moved back to the bench, shooting 3-of-17 and finishing with 6 points, 5 assists, and 4 turnovers. The Thunder were within striking distance late, but Schroder missed two opportunities from long range that OKC desperately needed to go down. He shot 0-of-6 from deep on the night.