In one of the team’s most lackluster and ill-fated performances of the season, the Sacramento Kings entered Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday night to face an Oklahoma City Thunder team that looks poised to make a run for the one seed in the West. The final score mirrored the skill gap between the two teams, as the Thunder walked away with a 94-81 win.
With Kendrick Perkins still out of the Thunder starting lineup, Friday’s game posed immense possibilities for success for DeMarcus Cousin, as he was coming off one of the best spans of his NBA career. Starting in place for Perkins was Steven Adams, a matchup which had potential to give Cousins the opportunity to force his will inside the paint. Even with Serge Ibaka providing help defense and rotating to Cousins in the post, the Kings needed to take advantage of a clear scoring and rebounding mismatch. With Reggie Evans solidifying the Kings frontcourt, this lineup had all the makings of a highly productive outing for Sacramento’s big men.
But, as the Kings found out in one of their worst offensive performances of the season, the Thunder are too good a team to let an overwhelming mismatch define a game. Oklahoma City held Cousins to just four points and four rebounds, limiting him to just 17 minutes by getting him into foul trouble early. The Thunder’s game plan of throwing every big man it had at Cousins and making his advances in the low post nearly impossible proved mightily effective: he left the first quarter with three quick fouls and was unable to assert himself for the rest of the game.
Cousins was so preoccupied with staying out of foul trouble that he resorted to taking shots from mid-range, rarely driving into the lane or setting up in the post. His fear of picking up fouls, as well as the onslaught of blocks brought on by Ibaka, rendered Cousins virtually useless throughout the game.
Isaiah Thomas continued to recover from an injury, charging Ray McCallum with the job of guarding Russell Westbrook, a task few NBA point guards are able to accomplish. While McCallum had an impressive offensive game with 13 points and five assists, it was evident that he couldn’t defend Westbrook. With the gap in athleticism between the two players and Westbrook’s ability as a mid-post player, there wasn’t much of a chance for McCallum to stop the scoring attack. While Westbrook only finished with 18 points, a number of Thunder fast breaks were started by his ability to push the ball up the floor and find his teammates easy buckets.
The Kings didn’t have much success throughout the night on the offensive side of the ball either. Ball handlers didn’t get the offense going until late in the shot clock, forcing Travis Outlaw and Ben McLemore to shoot pull-up threes. With almost no transition game, Sacramento was not able to assert any form of offensive pressure. This gave the Thunder easy defensive stops which turned into more fast break opportunities, where Kevin Durant and Westbrook cleaned up a number of easy buckets in awe-inspiring fashion.
One silver lining that the Kings can take away from the performance, and from the entire month of March, is the recent play of McLemore. He has made strides throughout his rookie season, scoring at least 15 points in the Kings’ last three games and gradually improving his three-point shooting.
With Cousins virtually absent throughout the entire 48 minutes, and with the whole Kings team struggling to string together even a few effective offensive possessions, the Thunder pushed themselves one step closer in the chase for the top seed in the deep Western Conference. Sacramento will hope to regroup quickly, as the team will play again on Saturday night against a Dallas Mavericks team with hopes of making a playoff bid.