Game Recap: Thunder 120, Kings 100

It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Thunder, who never trailed against Sacramento in a convincing 20-point road win. It was fueled by an offensive attack of 32 assists compared to just 13 turnovers as OKC’s defense held the Kings to just 9-of-39 shooting (23.1 percent) from behind the arc.

Sometimes it’s tough to catch a rhythm in an NBA game, but tonight’s first quarter was beyond choppy. It was bordering on a slog, as both the Thunder and Kings really struggled shooting the ball right out of the gate.

The Thunder’s defense had something to do with it, holding Sacramento to just 6-of-21 shooting in the opening frame. With its quickness on the perimeter, Thunder defenders forced Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, Nemanja Bjelica, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic to put the ball on the deck and score off the bounce instead of shooting three-pointers over the top. In fact, with Dennis Schröder halfway inside Hield’s jersey, the Kings guard who just scored a career-high 42 points two nights ago attempted just four shots in the first half.

On the other end though, the Thunder couldn’t quite get it going. Danilo Gallinari started 0-for-5 from the field, but did something very subtle, and crucial, to help get his team’s offense energized. Gallinari played with the pass, posting up then kicking out and attacking as a ball-handler in pick-and-roll, giving the Thunder a chance to get spaced out more on the perimeter for kick-out, pump-fake drives to the rim. He picked up 3 assists in the first quarter alone before he got his own shot going later. The result was an explosion of offense once the shots started falling.

“Gallo does things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet,” said Chris Paul “When we need him, he’s always there.”

Over the final seven minutes of the second quarter, shots started raining in. OKC scored 27 points from the 6:45 mark of the second frame up until halftime, knocking down all six of its 3-point attempts in the process. After a bit of push and pull in the third quarter, the rout was on.

The game was effectively ended late in the third quarter when the Thunder outscored Sacramento 26-11 during a 7-minute span, busting the lead open to 23 points at 94-71 with just over 90 seconds remaining in the stanza. The defining play of that stretch was an open-floor situation where rookie two-way guard Lu Dort got hacked across the face by a frustrated Bjelica, who went 0-for-5 in the game despite shooting 50.5 percent from three at home during the season.

The foul was called a flagrant one and Dort knocked down both free throws. Chris Paul, who returned after missing one game for personal reasons after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, took the ensuing possession into his own hands, looping right around a screen all the way to the cup. Paul finished with 9 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds in just 26 minutes of action.

The Thunder had more energy in this game from the very start as every man on the bench bounced up and down, jumping in unison just before tip-off. The energy-battle was officially won late in the second quarter though, during the midst of a 14-3 spurt to take control of the game. On back to back possessions, Schröder had the ball in his hands in the middle of the floor and lobbed the ball up to a streaking Nerlens Noel.

The second one came after Noel made a steal, one of four for the center on the night. Schröder (24 points on 8-of-13 shooting) pushed the tempo and when trapped at the free throw line by a pair of defenders, flicked his head to the left and pulled up as if to retreat back out to the perimeter and wait for reinforcements. It was a sleight of hand, and eye. Without looking, Schröder flipped a pass up towards the rim for one of his nine assists in the game as Noel (12 points on 6-of-7 shooting) barreled down the lane for an alley-oop slam.

“Nerls read that perfect. I saw him trailing, running hard. I just tried to reward him for running,” said Schröder. “That’s my guy. Off the court, on the court, we talk a lot and try to get better in game situations. He’s a big time roller and opens up a lot of things for me.”

Chris Paul“We tried to make the right play all game long, making the right pass, hitting the extra guy and defending and staying together.” –Chris Paul

“I feel for the families. It’s a big loss for everybody… (Playing) was probably the best thing I could have done, to get out and play. Kobe wouldn’t have had it any other way.” –Chris Paul on the loss of Kobe Bryant and
his daughter Gianna

The Thunder concludes it’s grueling month of January with a road test against the Phoenix Suns on Friday. OKC is 11-5 in the month thus far and has won 10 of its last 11 road games. Standing at 29-20, the Thunder is just one game back of Houston and Dallas, who are currently tied for fifth place in the West and who play against one another on Friday.

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