The Norman Transcript

December 15, 2012

Thunder keep Kings at bay

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — In its two previous games, Oklahoma City allowed its opponents to hang around, forcing the Thunder to come up big in the fourth quarter. For three quarters Friday against Sacramento, it looked like that would not happen again.

But once again, the Thunder needed a fourth-quarter spurt to hold off the Kings 113-103 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It may not have been pretty the entire time, but it was enough to reach the team’s 10th straight victory, the longest since the franchise came to Oklahoma City.

“It was good,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. “We did a good job of knocking out shots. It is what we have to do for the next 48 games. We make the plays in a lot of different ways.”

Oklahoma City (19-4) took a double-digit lead into the third quarter and slowly lengthened its lead. Both teams had emptied their benches in the fourth quarter as the Thunder led by 24.

However, the Kings (7-15) Isaiah Thomas led a frenetic charge to close the gap to 103-93 with four minutes left in the game. Thunder coach Scott Brooks was forced to bring his starters back in.

“I think we played with energy and heart,” Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans said. “We came out and played tough basketball. We kept fighting.”

The Kings closed the gap to five points before Durant came up with a bucket to stop the bleeding. Serge Ibaka and Westbrook added a couple of shots to push the lead back to 109-98.

The Kings got within six points before Durant drained four consecutive free throws with 43 seconds left to put the game away.

Ibaka led the Thunder charge with 18 points and 11 rebounds. It was only his third double-double of the year. Durant missed just four shots from the field as he racked up 31 points, four steals and six turnovers. Westbrook added 13 points and 13 assists.

“We’re such a balanced team,” Durant said. “Any given night anybody can go off.”

Thomas came off the bench to lead the Kings with 26 points, all in the second half. Evans added 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting.

Thomas didn’t play at all in the first half and had been used sparingly the last couple of weeks. He said he didn’t do anything different against the Thunder except get on the floor.

Even though Kings coach Keith Smart liked how his team forced their way back into the contest, he was not happy with how his team fell behind in the first place. At one point in the third quarter, he called a time out and yelled at his players the entire time. He said it may have been the most upset he’s been all year.

“I just thought we looked terrible as a basketball team at that point,” Smart said. “We weren’t moving the ball, we were taking horrible shots. We are going to compete and play hard, but I don’t want it to look like we have no care about the game on the floor. And it showed. Eventually I changed and got people off the floor and we started playing some decent basketball.”

The 19-4 record is the best start to a season in the Oklahoma City era and best franchise start since 1993.

“We did a great tonight from the start,” Durant said. “We missed a few early, again, but we just kept playing defense. Everybody stuck with our defense, playing together on both ends.

Michael KinneyFollow me @eyeamtruthmkinney@normantranscript.com”

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