Game Recap: Thunder 112, Kings 108

For the second straight game, the Thunder gutted out a crunch-time victory down the stretch despite adversity in the first half. A mixture of added intensity and a winning free throw battle aided the Thunder to another late-game victory after trailing by 19.

The Thunder tore out of the gates with an immediate indication of how it intended to play on Thursday night. After winning the tip, the Thunder executed a textbook pick and roll between All-Star point guard Chris Paul and Steven Adams which resulted in an uncontested dunk.

However, the initial burst of energy for the Thunder quickly died down as Sacramento knocked down shots and earned valuable trips to the free throw line. In the first quarter, the Kings were a perfect 7-7 from the charity stripe while the Thunder only made one empty trip (0-2).

The free throw discrepancy continued into the second quarter. In the Thunder’s last two meetings with Sacramento, it has held the Kings to a combined 21 attempts at the stripe, at the half, the Kings tallied 10. Meanwhile ,the offensive pace slowed for the Thunder. When shots started falling for the Kings, the Thunder’s transition opportunities shrank. Suddenly, the Kings were on a 17-3 run over the course of six minutes with its lead bolstered to 10 points.

Although a 3-pointer from Abdel Nader quenched the Thunder scoring drought, the Kings were still rolling strong. The star of the second quarter was Buddy Heild off the bench who scored all 12 of his first half points in the second frame with a perfect 4-4 performance from downtown. By the half, the Thunder trailed 61-50.

Coming out of the break, it looked to be more of the same as Harrison Barnes benefited from mismatches in the lane with no offensive answer from the Thunder. However, after a timeout by Thunder head coach Billy Donovan early in the third quarter, Chris Paul huddled up his teammates and told them, “Turn it up. Let’s turn it up, let’s pick up the pace.”

After that timeout, the Thunder emerged on a 6-3 run with three consecutive triples between Paul and fellow midrange specialist Dennis Schröder forcing a Kings’ timeout. The Thunder then erupted on a 19-4 run to close out the third quarter punctuated by a wide open 3-pointer in the corner from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from a Dennis Schröder laser pass. As the offense geared back on the right track, the Thunder defense only allowed two free throws with the disciplined defensive performance by Hamidou Diallo and Dennis Schröder. As a result the Thunder trailed only one point going into the fourth.

A late shotclock runner from Gilgeous-Alexander to start the fourth quarter gave the Thunder its first lead since the opening frame. OKC remained aggressive and as a result, drew five Sacramento fouls with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter ­which meant bonus shots the rest of the way.

“Anytime you can manufacture points like that, that’s really important,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “I thought we fouled too much in the first half and were better in the second half.”

The Thunder balanced a delicate one-possession lead throughout the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. Enter the NBA’s leader in clutch-time scoring, Chris Paul. With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Paul elevated for a contested triple while Hary Giles III bumped him in the air. The ball dropped through the rim as the whistle blew and the fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena roared as Paul’s teammates helped him off the ground. The Thunder now had a five point buffer which it needed to remain ahead for the rest of the game in the midst of timely steals and buckets from Sacramento to keep the game interesting into the final seconds.

“Just trying to stay aggressive,” Paul said of his 3-pointer. “One of our biggest advantages here at home is the crowd. The more we can keep the crowd into the game, the better it is for us.”

Danilo Gallinari, who finished with a game-high 24 points, was the star of several crowd-pleasing, above-the-rim plays, the last of which happened in the critical moments of the fourth quarter. What started with a steal at half court from Gallinari, turned into a two-on-one fast break between him and Dennis Schröder. The pair ping ponged the ball between each other down the floor before Schröder sent the ball up towards the rim. Gallo elevated and grabbed the ball with two hands while taking contact from a late defender. Nearly dunking it in, Gallinari guided the ball through the rim for a 3-point play the old-fashioned way.

“Freak of nature right here, watch out,” Gallinari warned with a wide grin.


After allowing 10 free throw attempts in the first half, the Thunder cleaned up its defense and held the Kings to only four attempts in the entire second half. Meanwhile, the Thunder turned up the intensity on the offensive end with aggressive attacks to the rim and smart offensive plays. After only attempting six free throws in the first half, the Thunder finished the game with 29 attempts.

“I thought we were more aggressive,” said Gallinari. “More aggressive going to the basket and reading the defense better, so a combination of these two things.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

“We have just been in the situation a lot and we know what to do. I think I speak for all five guys that are in the game at the end of the game most of the time, we are confident, we work hard, and we trust each other.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

“It’s a really competitive group. I think as the games are going on, they are smart enough and they understand things that when it’s not going well, why.” –Coach Donovan

The Thunder will wrap up February in Milwaukee on Friday at 7 p.m. for the second half of its road-home back-to-back. The Thunder are winners of a Thunder-record nine consecutive road wins and are in search of number 10 against the number one team in the East.

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