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Thunder falter to battle-scarred Kings 126-98

With Sacramento hitting the court absent of De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, and Buddy Hield — Oklahoma City entered the Golden 1 Center with their heads up high, only missing Lu Dort. Even with the Kings’ misfortune, the Thunder could not get the job done Sunday night, faltering to the Kings 126-98. Oklahoma City claimed sole possession of the third-best lottery odds with the win, swooping the best top-four odds (including a 14-percent chance of picking first) on a 21-48 record. Sacramento’s playoff hopes remained on a string with the victory, sitting three games back of a play-in seed on a 30-38 record.

Oklahoma City entered the night with a lengthy lineup of Theo Maledon, Darius Bazley, and Isaiah Roby running the 1, 3, and 4 while 7-footer Aleksej Pokusevski started at shooting-guard, catering to the 7-foot club with Moses Brown (7-foot-2.) The Thunder stole notes from last night’s game, gravitating towards the three for their first 9-of-13 points while Sacramento stuck to the interior — stalking a 13-8 hole. The Kings charged right back with their own mix of threes, rattling down three straight threes in a span of a minute to stick a lead. Sacramento’s run built to 13 points unanswered after another two minutes as a Marvin Bagley putback jam coupled with two Mo Harkless buckets jumped Sacramento up 24-13. Oklahoma City’s “bench mob” entered the game with a zero-zero mentality, dousing a 10-5 run bottled with Josh Hall snagging two defenders on the left baseline, triggering a pass to Jaylen Hoard for a driving jam. Both sides made their best effort down the stretch but little dents were made, finishing with Sacramento up 33-25.

Sacramento’s lead floated around ten for the first three minutes of the second, until a 2-of-8 shooting drought from Oklahoma City helped the Kings gash a 22-point lead off a 16-4 run. The Kings’ twenty-point lead flickered on and off throughout the period, growing up to 23 at its apex. Upon the midway’s horn, the King’s were up 71-51.

The Kings’ offense sent Thunder players flashbacks from yesterday’s performance as the group buried a clean fifty percent of threes on a 9-of-18 sample. Sacramento’s success tapped into the interior as they outscored Oklahoma City 36-20 in the paint. Four members of the Kings’ roster bottled the half with double-digits as Mo Harkless led all scorers with 16 points (5-of-7 FG.) For the Thunder, their 42-percent piecing was nothing to the Kings’ 63-percent accuracy from the floor. Oklahoma City had a rough time with the little things giving up 9 turnovers while fouling 11 times, but with 14-of-18 field goals coming assisted — the wealth was evenly dispersed with Bazley being the lone double-digit scorer with 10. 

Just as the second quarter had shaped out, the sunrise stages of the second half turned into a five-minute jousting match in which both sides scouted each other out with Sacramento’s 20-point lead remaining. The Kings ended the standstill at the seven-minute mark steaming out a pair of threes and a Richaun Holmes and-one to carry a 13-3 run — and a 30-point lead. The Thunder stormed back to drain the game back into the twenties a couple of times, but the Kings’ 7-0 spurt to end the frame put themselves up 106-71 entering the fourth. 

To begin the fourth quarter, both Mark Daigneault and Luke Walton dug into their second units for production. The Thunder were out of the equation by well over thirty during the fourth but their endgame push was commendable. After being down 35, Oklahoma City’s bench plus Pokusevski racked up a late 12-2 run to hang the game back into the twenties, but by that point the dust had settled. 

Sacramento’s constant success throughout Sunday’s contest pointed to one thing — sharing the rock. The Kings recorded 30 assists on 45 made field goals throughout the game, resulting in eight different players posting double-digits. Forwards Mo Harkless and Terrance Davis posted 18 points as Harkless was more of a catch-and-shoot player while Davis controlled the second unit, even tallying 7 assists. Delon Wright played team leader with no Fox or Haliburton on deck, and he impressed, finishing the night with 15 points (6-of-10 FG), 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Buddy Hield was another sneaky distributor in this game capping a 14-point outing with 7 assists of him own. Frontcourt members Richaun Holmes, Marvin Bagley, Chimeze Metu, and Damian Jones all tallied double-digits plaguing Oklahoma City’s bigs en route to a 56-44 advantage in the paint.

Oklahoma City found themselves a sea of solid looks, ending this game with 23 assists and 14 turnovers, but with a 39-percent accuracy from the floor, including a sub-30 three — they left too much for grabs. Darius Bazley led the team with 18 points (6-of-13 FG) and 7 rebounds venturing at both levels for baskets. Bazley was his usual self driving to the basket getting to the line five times (4-of-5 FTM) though his 2-of-3 rate from distance put his night on a pedestal.

Two-way forward Jaylen Hoard has seen has been inconsistent to say the least, but in this game — the floor was all his. Hoard arguably had the best performance on the team with a career-high 16 points (6-of-8 FG), 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in just 22 minutes. The 23-year-old played to his strengths offensively shooting all of his eight attempts in the paint using a combination of drives and hand-offs to get inside. Hoard’s 6-foot-8 frame was utilized at its fullest Sunday as he bounced off of Kings defenders inside before putting on the breaks, resulting in some standstill close shots that only players of his stature could put down.

“He [Jaylen] continues to impress. We talk all the time about bringing a level of competitiveness… He executes what we try to do on both ends with a high level of reliability,” said Mark Daigneault.

Rookies Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon washed away the game with 13 points a piece. Poku was a tad shaky going 5-of-11 overall and 2-of-7 from three but his 5 assists on the game helped him to stay on for 26 minutes. Maledon also shot 2-of-7 from distance bottling his time with a 5-of-15 outing. Maledon prowled around the top of the key all night shooting almost all of his threes in that zone with using high-ball screens to take face-up runners.

Moses Brown reaped the benefits of Maledon and Pokusevski’s work inside as harvested 12 points and 8 rebounds. Brown just a mere 3-of-4 this game so for him — all his points were earned the hard way. Off of entry passes and second chances, Sacramento often times brought a second man down low to punch the ball away from his hands, as soon as someone made their move, he made his. Brown got to the line 7 times in the night (6-of-7 FTA) using his rip move to essentially lodge his wrists right into the defender’s hands.

Oklahoma City will look to hold onto their highly-regarded lottery odds Tuesday night where they will conclude their baseball set versus the Kings, and head home for their final two games of the season.

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