The Oklahoma City Thunder have a dirty little secret. The Thunder have the best record in the Western Conference, and obviously they have star power to spare with All-Star starter Kevin Durant and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook, named as a reserve on Thursday. The Thunder's offense is potent, ranked in the top five in the league in efficiency. The defense, while not stellar, is still around the league average in efficiency. But the Thunder are No. 30 in the league -- dead last -- in turnovers committed.
Thursday night in Sacramento against the Kings, those turnovers haunted the Thunder. They committed 23 for the game, with several key ones coming in the final minutes as they were losing an eight-point lead. Sacramento capitalized on the Thunder miscues to record a 106-101 victory, the fourth win in five games for the suddenly surging Kings.
The game was close throughout after the Kings ran out to an 11-2 lead at the very outset. That nine-point margin would prove to be their biggest lead of the game, while the Thunder never led by more than eight. But Oklahoma City built their lead late, and it seemed as if they had the game well in hand when a Daequan Cook three put them ahead 95-87 with less than 6 minutes remaining. But the Kings kept battling, and back to back threes by Marcus Thornton within a span of 40 seconds knotted the score at 97.
Meanwhile, in those final crucial six minutes, the Thunder committed five turnovers -- three of them in the final two minutes. The Thunder took the lead for the last time at 99-98 on a Westbrook jumper with just 80 seconds left in the game -- but they proceeded to come up empty on their next three possessions, with two of them ending in Westbrook turnovers. The Kings scored seven unanswered points at the free throw line to put the game away.
Russell Westbrook is a singular NBA talent; his athleticism is breathtaking. On one drive and dunk, TNT analyst Chris Webber lost his composure completely, screaming incoherently at a national TV audience, because Westbrook is that spectacular.
He finished the game with 33 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists -- and 7 turnovers. It was the ninth time this season that Westbrook, ostensibly a point guard, has had as many or more turnovers as assists in a game. That's more than a third of the time, and that's not good.
Sacramento struggled to score all night. Serge Ibaka of the Thunder blocked 10 shots (the second time he's done so this month) and when Ibaka wasn't there, Nick Collison was taking charges. Consequently the Kings shot a poor percentage -- but the extra shots they got from the Thunder turnovers kept them in the game. The 23-12 disparity in turnovers combined with a 17-12 Sacramento edge on the offensive glass resulted in 22 extra field goal attempts for the Kings. That's how you win a basketball game while being outshot 48 percent to 40 percent.
The Kings were led by Tyreke Evans with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals, DeMarcus Cousins with 19 points and 9 rebounds, and Thornton with 15 points, including those two huge three-pointers. The Kings may actually have a decent core going with those three. In addition to Westbrook's 33, Kevin Durant had 27 and James Harden had 17 for Oklahoma City. And that's what you call a great core.
Oklahoma City is now four games into a five game road trip on which they find themselves 2-2. They pulled out last-minute wins in Portland and Oakland, but couldn't find the same magic in Sacramento. Overall they drop to 20-6, still good for best in the West, but second to Chicago overall in the NBA. Sacramento improves to 10-16 overall, 7-4 at home. There just aren't a lot of easy road wins in the Western Conference.