The Thunder shaved what was once a 17-point deficit down to just one point in the fourth quarter thanks to a strong late-game defensive effort and contributions from everyone to step on the floor. A couple of critical buckets late by the Kings allowed Sacramento to escape OKC with a narrow win.
For the second straight game, the Thunder’s 48-minute mentality took what was a looming deficit (17 points against Sacramento) and made it a one-possession game in the final moments. Though the squad fell shy of the complete comeback, the fight and execution with the game on the line are valuable moments for this young, developing Thunder roster.
“Those games are fun just because you get to learn so much from those games when it gets down the stretch like that,” said Thunder forward Darius Bazley who finished with a game-high 24 points to go with 11 rebounds. “We’re so young. So being able to be in those situations and get that opportunity to just go through it, that’s really big.”
Before the Thunder took control of the momentum late, it was all Sacramento through the first three quarters. Early on, the Thunder struggled to convert its looks at the rim and Sacramento took advantage on the other end of the floor by translating the Thunder’s missed buckets into fast break opportunities offensively. By halftime, the Thunder had gone 8-for-29 in the paint while the Kings registered 14 fast breakpoints and held on to a 10-point lead.
The Thunder was able to string together bursts of offense early on behind the contributions of its second unit. Fresh off of an historic 65-point performance against Phoenix on Sunday, the Thunder’s bench chipped in 47 on Tuesday and it was the newest member to the fold who led in scoring: Gabriel Deck with 16 points. In just his fourth game with the Thunder, the 6-foot-8 Argentinian registered his fourth-consecutive game with increased scoring and continued to reveal the various aspects to his game.
“He’s gotten better every game. He gets a lot into the game. We love his physicality around the basket. He plays much bigger than he is. He plays much tougher than his size. He’s a pretty nasty dude defensively and then offensively he really knows how to play,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “He’s hit the ground running really well. A humble guy, a great teammate. He’s done a great job so far.”
The Thunder also received quality minutes from two-way players Jaylen Hoard and Josh Hall, neither of whom played in the Thunder’s previous matchup with Phoenix. Hall and Hoard recorded seven and nine points respectively while they both grabbed seven rebounds. It was Hoard who was responsible for the Thunder’s first two buckets of the fourth quarter that forced Sacramento to call a timeout in the hopes of squashing the Thunder’s building momentum.
“If I’m not in the rotation I’ve still got to be locked in and ready at any time because your name can be called like today,” said Hoard. “My main thing is just continue to work hard, still working with coach ZP (Zach Peterson) and just trying to pay attention so that whenever my name is called I’m already.”
Sacramento head coach Luke Walton called a timeout with two minutes remaining in the game to rally his squad. The Thunder had gone on a 9-0 run to cut down a 13-point deficit down to just four points with plenty of time to operate thanks to a strong defensive effort that stalled the Kings’ offense at the most opportune time.
“The key things were to just get out to their shooters,” said Bazley. “Then when they do take those shots that we want them to take, just securing the rebound and getting out in transition. I think that was big.”
Out of Sacramento’s timeout, the Thunder’s defense swarmed the paint, forced a turnover and erupted down the floor on the break. Moses Brown grabbed his seventh offensive rebound of the night and tipped in a second chance bucket to cut the lead to two points.
Delon Wright provided the sole source of timely offense for the Kings down the stretch. It was his steal and layup that sent the game to two possessions and when Bazley cut the lead to one point, it was his reverse layup that made it a three-point game.
The Thunder got a decent look at a 3-pointer on the following possession, but the ball rattled in and out with 5.6 seconds remaining. With the Thunder now forced to foul, the Kings made one critical free throw that made it an insurmountable two-possession game.
“We were down 10 or 12 there late, and I thought the guys did a really good job buckling down defensively and then we ran and we were able to get some easy stuff down the other end,” said Daigneault. “I appreciate the effort again. I thought we really fought and gave ourselves a chance down the stretch.”
Bazley finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds marking his 11th double-double of the season and his fifth career 20 and 10 performance. It was his continued attack to the basket that brought the game to a one-point margin with a minute remaining in the game.
Bazley gained the step on his defender and attacked an opening down the right side of the lane. His drive drew the attention of help defenders who rotated over in an effort to deter the 6-foot-8 forward. However, between the strength he’s worked to add to his game and the determination to attack the rim, the Kings’ help defense wasn’t able do enough to keep Bazley from shooting or even making the much-needed bucket.
The Cincinnati-native credited his ability to finish at the rim with “watching film, picking different angles, keeping the ball high and working on different finishes at practice.”
By the end of the night, the Kings outscored the Thunder 21-11 in fast break points. Sacramento’s fast-paced aggressive offense took advantage in the first half with 14, but the Thunder’s defense only allowed seven in the second. With the Thunder set to face the Kings two more times in the next week, be on the lookout for how OKC limits Sacramento’s transition looks in games two and three.
“Coach always reminds us it’s a 48-minute game. It doesn’t matter what the score looks like or what it feels like, you’ve just got to keep going out there and keep playing every possession.”
“It means we’re always engaged. We always try and play a 48-minute game, never relaxed. Try and keep our foot on the gas every time and always be consistent, always be supportive of each other, always trying to just play hard until the end.”
The Thunder will get two more chances to defeat the Kings as the team sets out to the West Coast for its final road trip of the season. The four-game stint will start in the Bay Area with a pair of matchups against the Golden State Warriors before wrapping up in Sacramento for two games.