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If it wasn’t enough that it was Grateful Dead night and fans that bought the special ticket package got to talk to the legendary Bill Walton, members of the band and got a special T-shirt to mark the occasion. Then, the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season, former Kansas City Royal Oscar Robertson was being recognized. How about that it was Fan Appreciation Night at the ole barn and nearly half in attendance was rewarded with some kind of prize for being a loyal purple-wearing fan. And finally, outstanding Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Isaiah Thomas was honored as this year’s winner of the team’s Oscar Robertson Triple Double Award during the game.
Oh, did I mention that the Sacramento Kings had to play possibly the best team in the league - the Oklahoma City Thunder - on this very special evening?
In a tough battle, it seemed that every time the Kings got close, the Thunder would pull away. They worked hard to pull out a 103-92 victory over the Kings on Friday night at Power Balance Pavilion before continuing their road trip and heading down south to play the Lakers on Sunday.
Again, like in the past several games, the home team pulled out to an early lead and seemed to have some kind of control of the flow of the game.
But when you’re playing against three of the best players in the game today - Kevin Durant (29 points, 14 boards, 7 assists), Russell Westbrook (18 points) and, since he’s averaging 17 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game, James Harden (20 points, 6 boards), an early lead is never enough.
Oh yeah. Don’t forget the most intimidating shot blocking presence in the game today in Serge Ibaka (12 points, 6 boards, 8 blocks).
Yeah, the Thunder are for real.
The Kings had their biggest lead of the game - seven - at the halfway point of the first quarter. That’s all it took for the Thunder to put their collective foot down and say that’s enough.
From that point on, the Kings chances of pulling out a win faded slowly like a desert landscape in the rear view mirror.
One fantastic highlight for the Kings was about three minutes into the game when Tyreke Evans split two defenders on the way to the rack but picked up a third defender just as got close to the hoop. That third defender was Ibaka and Evans instinctively knew he was in trouble. As Ibaka jumped to block the shot he thought was coming, Evans spun to his left and found Jason Thompson, who was closing on the basket from the opposite side of the floor. Evans’ pass went between three players right into J.T.’s waiting hands for the two-handed stuff.
For Thompson (13 points, 8 boards, 2 blocks), this year’s journey was in some respects, much like ones of year’s past. The many coaching changes, getting yanked in and out of the starting lineup of the years and a different style of play every year.
In other ways, this has been Thompson’s breakout season. Although many of his numbers are down from a few years ago, his shooting percentage is up and something seemed to click about one-third of the way through the year.
Whether it was Clifford Ray, who was brought in to work with the big men, getting used to Keith Smart’s system or just finally growing into his body and honing his craft, something happened.
“Kind of being in a consistent situation,” started Thompson. “I’ve had four different coaches in four years. It’s tough to get into a certain type of rhythm. I think for the most part, being a starter and knowing my role for some time, it got me at more of a comfort level. I started to get into a groove.”
But it was really slowing his game down and learning not to rush things that have got to have the Kings’ brass thinking about resigning him in the off-season.
“Kind of playing slower,” said Thompson. “Making the game come to me. Using my ability to run the floor and trying to look for the basketball as much as I can. Then when I got the easier ones, the tougher ones get easier.”
You know how much Kings’ fans hate the Lakers and anything to do with them. That hatred was on full display when Derek Fisher entered the game in the first to a chorus of boos that reigned down upon him like rain in a tropical forest. Heavy.
Early in the second quarter, the Thunder threatened to runaway with it as they gained a 14-point lead, but the Kings rallied to close it to an eight-point lead at the half.
To say the officiating was bad on this night would be an understatement to say the least. Right before the end of the half, there was a sequence where several Kings thought they were being hacked under the basket, so much so, that Coach Smart picked up the technical as he almost exploded in his shoes because of the lack of a foul call after the sequence.
“We can’t let that get the best of us,” said Chuck Hayes. “You just have to keep playing. You keep going to the hole strong, looking for contact and just be physical. Eventually, they’re gonna come.”
DeMarcus Cousins (18 points, 9 boards) came out in the third quarter angry and looking to score. Cousins had eight in the quarter and was making an impact early, but the Thunder know how to wear a team down. Late in the quarter, they would push it to a 15-point lead and never look back.
The Kings went shot-for-shot with Oklahoma City in the final quarter but it wasn’t to pull out a win.
Francisco Garcia, who put a hard foul on Durant towards the end of the game, performed well on this night finishing with 11 points, six boards, four assists and, of course, his two obligatory blocks.
Garcia, now the team’s journeyman, hasn’t received consistent playing time this season, but always does his best to stay ready for the call.
“It felt good to be out there,” said the veteran from Louisville. “Like you said, just playing a certain amount of minutes. It felt good just to be out there.”
And what about Isaiah Thomas, the celebrated King of the evening? What did it mean to him to win the coveted organizational award?
“It meant a lot,” said the rookie. “Any award you win, means a lot. But the one from Oscar Robertson himself, it’s a blessing from God. I was surprised I won it.”
GAME NOTES: Kendrick Perkins had a quiet 10 points and seven boards for the Thunder . . . Jimmer Fredette had 11, but only hit one of his five three-point shots . . . Thomas had 12 points, three boards and four assists . . . Marcus Thornton did not play - sore knee . . . Hayes (7 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals) had a solid game . . . The last home game of the year is Thursday against the rival Lakers
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