In a remarkably entertaining game that saw DeMarcus Cousins escape suspension, Kevin Durant chase Kobe Bryant and Oklahoma City play its bench for the entire fourth quarter, the Sacramento Kings started hot, held a lead throughout, but eventually fell to the Thunder, 118-110 Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.
Cousins had a great night, and it started before the game as the team successfully appealed the league to rescind Cousins' recent 13th technical foul, allowing the big fella to play. From the opening bell, Cousins was a tough cover for OKC, scoring no less than seven points in every quarter and helped his Kings get out to a 40-point first quarter.
Cousins was assisted in that first quarter explosion by Travis Outlaw, who scored 10 in the quarter, on his way to a 20-point, seven-rebound and four-steal game. Joining the 20-point club for the Kings was Jason Thompson, adding six rebounds and 9-11 shooting to his stat line for the game. Isaiah Thomas dished out five assists in that first quarter and had nine for the game.
The 40 points were the most points scored against the Thunder in the first quarter all season and it gave the Kings an early five-point lead. That lead was extended in the second quarter by Cousins and Thompson, growing the lead to as many as 13 points before the Thunder snapped off a 12-0 run and eventually cutting the lead to two at the half.
Sacramento came right back after halftime and got the lead back up to 13 after a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter behind Cousins, Thompson and Tyreke Evans (18 points, four rebounds, four assists). The Thunder whittled away at the lead, but the Kings still held a four-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Then, what looked to be just Scott Brooks taking his starters out for a blow before the final stretch run of the game turned into something that has been somewhat of a trend in this lockout-induced condensed schedule: Letting the bench play out the rest of the game.
For the Kings, who continued to rotate in their starters in the fourth quarter and were playing without three players (John Salmons, Terrence Williams and Marcus Thornton) for the game, this appeared to be quite a gift, given the play of Durant, who scored 32 points in 31 minutes through the first three quarters.
Durant could not be stopped by any of the Kings -- while his shooting wasn't close to perfect (7-19 from the field), his ability to get to the free throw line underlined the difficulty of effectively defending the two-time scoring champ. Durant made 15 of his game-high 16 free throws and caught Kobe Bryant for the scoring lead (per game) in the NBA.
So it was up to the Thunder reserves to get the job done at home against Cousins and the Kings, and without the services of top reserve James Harden, who missed the game due to concussion symptoms suffered at the infamous elbow of Metta World Peace.
It was see-saw throughout the quarter as Cousins and Thompson fought to finish what the Kings had started and held for most of the game, but the Kings hurt themselves as they fouled on a three-point shot twice in the quarter, once with Daequan Cook and then with Derek Fisher. Fisher, no stranger to fourth-quarter heroics, also made a couple of key hoops late, scoring seven for the quarter and 11 points and five assists for the game.
Cook shot 6-9 for the quarter, hitting four out of five three-pointers, the last of which put the Thunder up seven with 45 seconds to play in the game. Cook scored all 19 of his points in the fourth quarter and Cole Aldrich was the surprising endgame free thrower, knocking down all four of his shots there to seal the game for the Thunder.
In the end, at Sactown Royalty, Aykis16 was able to bring the optimism:
I really loved the effort, heart and determination showed by our young team tonight. For most of the night, they looked like the team that was preparing for the playoffs, and this was all coming despite being without several key contributors. There have been so many flashes from this team this year and it just gives me hope for what the future may bring.
For more on the second seeded Thunder, head over to Welcome to Loud City.
For all of Tuesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.