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Thunder inches shy from comeback, fall at Kings’ throne 103-99

With guards De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Halliburton, and forward Harrison Barnes absent from play, the Sacramento Kings entered Tuesday’s contest trimmed to the brim of talent. Even with Sacramento’s road bump, the Thunder fell short of the victory, kneeling at the Kings’ throne 103-99. Oklahoma City now cherishes lone possession of the fourth-lottery odds following the win, now standing at 21-45 with 6 games remaining. Sacramento picked up their third-straight win upon conclusion now 3.5 games out of a play-in seed, sitting 12th in the West. 

Sacramento honed in from the paint to start this game pinning names in Richaun Homles and Marvin Bagley Jr. in front of Moses Brown in attacking the rim. This strategy worked well for the Kings originally, but with the Thunder calmly breathing down their back, it was only time before they struck — they did. Oklahoma City’s game of catch-up took themselves up in the midway point as Darius Bazley between the legs, stepback triple over Mo Harkless propped this game to 12 apiece. With three lead changes and two ties in the final five neither side had a clear advantage leading into the second, but following a 10-5 closing push from the Kings, they led 25-20. 

The Thunder’s “bench mob” stormed out of the second with a three-minute 10-2 run (it was 30-27) to reclaim the lead as Gabriel Deck played initiator with an iso post-hook while guards Svi Mykhailiuk and Ty Jerome spotted up and took slices to the basket. Just as the first frame shaped out, the Thunder’s advantage held firm until the five-minute mark when the Kings recorded an 8-0 run to snag the lead off of Delon Wright and Buddy Hield triples, plus an easy look inside. As halftime neared, the Kings’ throne only expanded as they sent down emphatic finishes in transition to reach the buzzer up 56-46.

Sacramento’s double-digit lead stuck in the opening stages of the third as a 1-of-9 starting patch for Oklahoma CIty left the door open for a 16-point Kings lead in three-and-a-half minutes. This game turned quickly into a finishing contest for the night as 3 dunks and 11 layups were recorded in the third overall, but the shot disparity set the stage. Oklahoma City reaped their benefits from their successful inside play this frame, but with a mere 1-of-8 shooting from distance, Isaiah Roby eurosteps and Josh Hall relentless finishes were not enough. Sacramento on the other hand went right into Oklahoma City’s guts as the game shifted more inside-oriented, but as time progressed — they altered their play. Sacramento shot a paltry 1-of-12 from downtown, but given a 20-12 stronghold in the paint, they  padded enough space for an 81-69 lead to kickstart the fourth. 

With a double-digit crater landing into the fourth, Oklahoma City not only needed to restrain the Kings from distance, but they also needed a palatable source of offense to win — it didn’t look promising. As the final stretch drew out, the Kings had already buried two triples in the first three minutes. Given the Kings’ work from outside, the Thunder stayed within single digits for just a sole possession of the period’s sunrise, other than that — they were deep into the hole. This misfortune changed in the back parts of the night as Oklahoma City sliced the game to single-digits with four to go, capping a then 8-0 run bottled with a Bazley straight-away three, they were down just four with just under three minutes left. Respective teams went dry from the floor for the ensuing 50-seconds and it looked to stay that way after a shanked sidestep from Bazley, but a quick tap-in from Moses Brown sunk the game to two with 1-minute, 47-seconds to go. After a Kings’ miss, the Thunder had a shot to tie or take the lead though after Maledon looked to ship the ball as he settled at the top of the key, Delon punched into the pass an held in a layup on the other side — the Thunder’s 11-0 run was out the window. Twenty seconds later, Darius Bazley shifted into his final gear driving right into the lane for a layup and a Richaun Holmes foul in which he drained his free throw with 1-minute 9-seconds to go. Sacramento found themselves with the ball given 32 seconds up a single point, with it they decided to whittle the clock to its final stand before Delon Wright drove in for a reverse layup — it was good. Down just three, Oklahoma City could’ve used the last 18 seconds for a potential game knotter as time expired, but that was not the case. Upon the inbound Oklahoma City was squandering for an open man and with Isaiah Roby given some cushion he launched a 25-foot three — no good. With a Richaun Holmes rebound they burned four seconds in fouling twice, and after a pair of split Holmes charity attempts the Thunder were down four with 4.3 remaining. After a Mark Daigneault timeout Isaiah Roby received a turnaround three but Mo Harkless was all over rejecting the shot in addition to the Thunder’s chances.

Despite the win, Luke Walton should not be particularly happy with his crew. Sacramento shot 41-percent from the field on Tuesday while only draining 12-of-43 (27.9%) three-point attempts. For the Kings, their biggest shift to sit on the throne as they outscored the Thunder 21-to-11 in that department. Seven members of the roster netted double-figures in this game as Buddy Hield and Terrance split the tab with a team-high 18 points each while Delon Wright neared a triple-double on a 13-point, 10-rebound, 8-assist game.

For Oklahoma City, their shooting clinic ranked as a bottom-five performance on the season as they shot just 35.7-percent from the floor shooting a respectable 11-of-36  (30.6%) beyond the arch. The Thunder resolved one of their biggest issues leading off into the game as they rattled off 21 assists to 14 turnovers. 

Darius Bazley rallied up a 10-point fourth quarter to end the night with a game-high 24 points (7-of-18 FG)  and 11 rebounds. The sophomore had a diversified night converting on four shots inside, 3-of-7 triples, and 7-of-9 free throws he faced in 32 minutes. 

“Coach always reminds us it’s a 48-minute game,” Bazley said. “It doesn’t matter what the score looks like, or what it feels like you just gotta keep going out there and playing every possession.”

Gabriel Deck broke out of his shell Tuesday for 16 points (5-of-7 FG), 3 rebounds, and 3 assists playing off the bench. Deck utilized his 16 minutes to the fullest calling isolations to bully his defender into the post. Deck’s 231-pound frame became extremely deceptive as he forced guards in Terrance Davis (214-pounds) and Justin James (190-pounds) to take him inside as he ragdolled them around for hooks and fadeaways. One of Deck’s greatest strengths in this game came from his reaction time as on multiple occasions the forward flicked up a layup or jumper almost instinctively upon receiving the ball. 

“He fits in,” remarked Darius Bazley. “He’s been playing great. [He’s been great] with his passing. He’s rebounding the heck out of the ball.”   

Moses Brown had 6 points off a  poor 3-of-8 clip around the basket, but his 17 boards made up for it. Brown almost single handedly outrebounded the Kings on the offensive glass going for 7 offensive boards to the Kings’ 9 snags. Lu Dort couldn’t find the basket in his return going just 3-of-16 (18.8%) from the floor, hitting 2-of-8 threes, for 10 points. 

Two-way pieces Jaylen Hoard and Josh Hall capitalized with extended minutes scoring 9 and 7 points respectively almost solely inside while both reached 7 rebounds. Hoard kept his attacks silent but deadly sparsely driving in, but one he committed, his flurry of up-fakes and side-steps took Sacramento in a daze. Josh Hall played point-forward off the bench slashing in at every opportunity while even stepping out for a three. 

Next up, the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-45) will take on another West Coast showdown against the Golden State Warriors (33-33.) 

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