Friday, March 1, 2024

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads OKC Thunder past Sacramento Kings to snap two-game skid

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Only a few NBA teams have managed to hinder the scoring prowess of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on his home turf.

Whether in the low post, high post, beyond the arc, or off a short roll in the restricted area, SGA’s elite shot-making has been the recipe for Oklahoma City’s success in 2024.

Those elements stayed the same in the Thunder’s 127-113 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday afternoon.

The early afternoon jinx is over for OKC, who dropped recent games to Detroit, Denver and Dallas. They survived Sacramento’s comeback effort in the end despite a streaking Malik Monk, who erupted for 15 of his 26 points in the second half.

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“They’re a good team, so they’re going to hit a lot of big shots,” Williams said. 

“Tonight, it was a lot of Malik Monk, and he has a track record of doing that. But we did a good job of sticking to our identity defensively, and we were able to get stops, which fueled our ability to go down and score.”

Ultimately, it was too much SGA for the Kings’ liking in a 38-point, seven-assist performance amidst his MVP quest. Jalen Williams was just a little behind him with a seemingly effortless 32 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

The Kings have struggled in recent weeks to prevent larger wings from going downhill in the painted area. Williams and SGA took advantage of that distinction on Sunday, repeatedly pirouetting through the lane.

With the win, the Thunder snapped Sacramento’s eight-game win streak over OKC, dating back to December of 2021.

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While SGA and Williams stepped up in the scoring department, OKC struggled early to get on the glass. 

Sacramento dominated the rebound battle 15-7 early in the first quarter before the Thunder before Mark Daigneault adjusted. He began running more extensive lineups with Chet Holmgren and Jaylin Williams, leading to immense help in slowing down Kings big man Domantas Sabonis.

The Thunder also reduced the rebounding disparity in that frame. The mend illuminated OKC’s positive outlook for running more two-big lineups.

“Jaylin does a good job at the point of attack,” Daigneault said. “Sabonis likes to use his shoulder to get deep in the paint, so Jaylin helps by having Chet behind him to deter shots. It gives us a lot of cumulative length on the floor.”

The glaring rebounding issue has persisted throughout most of the Thunder’s season, as they sit 27th in the NBA in rebounds per game. OKC also allows 15.7 second-chance points, the second most in the league. 

It’s an identity that Daigenault has pushed his players to try and shake heading into the postseason. 

However, with the addition of 13-year veteran center Bismack Biyombo, OKC has seemingly addressed its desire to fix its most significant obstacle.

“He has a very clear identity that he’s forged over a period of time and plays to it very consistently,” Daigneault said. “He knows exactly who he is and what value he can bring to the team. He’s someone that will integrate easily with a team.”

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OKC presented the critical ingredients to victory from tip-off, thanks to Lu Dort’s suffocating defense. 

He was assigned to guard De’Aaron Fox from the jump, putting him in a straightjacket for most of the afternoon and holding the 2023 All-Star to two points in the first half. Fox finished with just 15 points.

“I thought Lu did a good job (on Fox) in the first half especially,” Daigenault said. “We got him really under control there. He’s given us trouble obviously in the past, but Lu did a good job on him today, and so did everybody else with help defense.”

Fox has a track record of showing up in games against the Thunder lately. Heading into today’s matchup, he averaged 32 points while shooting 52% from the field in his last four games against OKC.

Dort was mindful of his history against one of the top guards in the Western Conference. He sought to redeem his confidence after Luka Doncic exploded for 32 points on just 14 shots in OKC’s 35-point loss to Dallas on Saturday.

“He’s tough,” Dort said, with an admitted gaze of approval. “He’s a good guard. Really fast — he can do a whole lot on the court.”

“Especially after a game like yesterday, where I felt like I didn’t do my job right as a defender having to guard the main guy on the other team. I approached guarding him tonight by just trying to be aggressive.”

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