Oklahoma City Thunder try to screw up, manage to hold on against Kings
Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Sacramento Kings 122-118 in a game that wasn’t close. Until it was really, really close.
The Oklahoma City Thunder tried really hard to anger fans on Sunday night, but the Kings stay the Kings. Up 12 with 1:23 left, the game seemed like a foregone conclusion. Then, the Thunder, Thundered Down. The Kings cut things to a two-point game with 18 seconds left. Fortunately, Victor Oladipo knocked down two free throws and Russell Westbrook came up with a game-sealing steal. Still, it was enough to give every OKC fan a minor heart attack.
Westbrook notched his 20th triple-double of the season, posting a line of 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. He was three turnovers away from his second straight quadruple-double. Victor Oladipo struggled from three (1/7), but had eight points from the line and finished with 23 points. An attacking and aggressive Oladipo makes OKC a far more dangerous team. But it was Enes Kanter, who finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes that deserves the credit tonight.
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Westbrook is great. We all know that. The Thunder wouldn’t be a solid playoff team without Westbrook, we all know that. But without Kanter, they would have very little secondary scoring and their entire bench would fall apart.
Kanter used to be unplayable against certain teams and certain situations. His defense ranged from “being out to position” to “it’s really unfair that OKC is on a penalty kill every time the other team has the ball.” Offensively, he was good in the pick-and-roll and had one post move (the spin move), but never passed the ball and could easily be doubled off the floor.
Kanter won’t be confused for Ben Wallace in his prime on the defensive end, but he’s no longer a human turnstile. He’s more aware, continues to give strong effort, and is better with his timing. At only 24, there’s no reason to think that he won’t continue to improve defensively.
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It’s his improvements on offense that keep him in the game, though. Bad defensive bigs can be hidden to an extent. Kevin Love isn’t a very good defensive player, unless he’s guarding Steph Curry, but he does so many things well on offense that Cleveland plays him in every situation. Kanter’s offense and rebounding has always made him a special talent, but it wasn’t diverse enough to keep him on the floor. Now that he’s become more aware on offense, learning how to pass out of the double and recognizing open shooters and cutter, he’s been able to stay on the floor.
The second unit runs their offense through Kanter, Westbrook trusts Kanter, and Kanter cleans up a lot of bad possessions with his offensive rebounding. He’s the true lowkey MVP. Sorry, Andre. Maybe if he made a layup or two a game, I would think differently.
For the Kings, DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and potentially future OKC starting small forward Rudy Gay had 22.
The big news coming out of this game is Steven Adams leaving in the third quarters with concussion-like symptoms. Adams was thrown down by Cousins on a rebound attempt, and the back of his head hit the floor. He didn’t return.
Steven Adams hit his head pretty hard on this fall. Got up but exited the game. pic.twitter.com/VnStHrq2vg
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) January 16, 2017
OKC can ill-afford to lose Adams right now given their upcoming schedule. I don’t care what Tony
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Heim writes in the coming days. He’s wrong. Just like, he’s wrong about Roberson.
The “not so shocking news” coming out of this game is Westbrook and Cousins picking up a double-technical. I’m sure they were just discussing the sham of NBA All-Star voting, but NBA referees continue to protect the Warriors.
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OKC is back at it tomorrow against the Clippers. It’s a holiday, so start drinking early.