Basketball: Thompson powers Kings to third straight victory
SACRAMENTO – It’s been nearly three years since Sacramento was at .500. The Kings first three-game winning streak in a year helped get them there.
Jason Thompson had 21 points and 14 rebounds to help Sacramento beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-98 on Tuesday night. It gave the Kings a 4-4 record, their first at .500 or above since Dec. 4, 2006.
“We want to start getting respect around here and the only way to do that is on the court,” said Thompson, a second-year player who is one six Kings with one year or less experience. “If we take care of the home cooking and make Arco (Arena) a tough place to play, that will take some pressure off us to win games on the road.”
Tyreke Evans had 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Kings, who made 31 of 36 free throws. Andres Nocioni scored 16 points, while both Beno Udrih and Spencer Hawes had 12.
“It was a great thing, the way we closed out the game was right,” said Nocioni. “Our young guys are doing a great job. They are bringing energy and playing great defense. They have given us new blood on this team.”
Kevin Durant scored a season-high 37 points, including making all 18 free throws, for the Thunder. Oklahoma City lost for the fourth time in five games since opening the season with consecutive wins.
Durant had a chance to send the game to OT, but missed a 3-pointer with a second left.
“The shot looked good when it left my hands. Hopefully the next time it goes in,” said Durant, who missed 5 of 6 3-point attempts and is 6 of 32 overall this season.
His 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left pulled the Thunder to within 99-98. Fouled immediately after the basket, Evans made two free throws to give the Kings a three-point lead.
After the Thunder cut the lead to 95-93 on Durant’s two free throws, Evans made a long jumper and rookie Omri Casspis scored on a breakaway dunk following a Thunder turnover, giving the Kings a 99-93 lead with 1:17 remaining.
“Learning to close games out is what this league is all about,” Kings coach Paul Westphal said. “There’s so much that goes into it. You have to get into your plays, you have to make free throws. It’s not easy. It takes experience and tonight we did a pretty good job of those things in closing out.”
The game evolved into a free-throw shooting contest for much of the second half between two of the NBA’s youngest teams. The Thunder shot just 39 percent, but connected on 30 of 35 free throws.
“I thought Sacramento did a good job of playing down the stretch,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well and we didn’t do a good enough job of passing either.”
Durant, who picked up two early fouls, struggled to find his shot the entire first half. Pestered frequently by the aggressive defense of Nocioni, the Thunder’s leading scorer missed 8-of-11 shots in the opening half.
But Durant did get going in the third quarter, penetrating frequently and drawing fouls. He made all nine free throws and scored 15 points, including the final 10 for the Thunder.
The Kings made all 14 free throws in a foul-plagued third quarter. Thompson scored eight points for Sacramento, which took an 83-77 lead into the fourth.
Both Evans and Thompson scored 10 first-half points for the Kings, who led 54-51. Green had 12 points for the Thunder and Durant had 10.