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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Clemente Almanza

Player grades: Thunder can’t overcome slow start in 105-98 loss to Kings

With a decent look from the corner, Josh Giddey had a chance to cut the Oklahoma City Thunder’s deficit to three points. Instead, the 21-year-old’s attempt came up short.

In a 105-98 loss to the Sacramento Kings, this was the theme for the Thunder. After trailing by as many as 17 points, OKC had several opportunities in the second half to mount a comeback.

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Instead, the Thunder came as close as two points in the second half but ultimately failed to complete the comeback as they never led in the entire game. The seven-point loss knocks OKC’s in-season tournament group play record to 0-2.

“First-quarter defense, first-half offense and movement just wasn’t where it needed to be,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said about the loss. “They came out way more urgent in the game on both ends of the floor so they deserved that one.”

The Kings got off to a hot start as they led 34-20 following the first quarter. OKC managed to cut the deficit in the middle quarters as it entered the final frame with some momentum as a Lu Dort buzzer-beating 3-pointer trimmed Sacramento’s lead to 75-70.

“In the first quarter, (we) spotted them a pretty good lead in controllable stuff defensively,” Daigneault said on the slow start. “I thought it took us a long time to get our game plan into the game with a level of urgency that we needed to have it.”

Despite the poor ending to the third quarter, the Kings rallied and started the fourth quarter on an 11-3 run — which included three consecutive 3-pointers — in the opening three minutes to push their lead back to double-digits.

“We had it in a good place, we got it to down to five,” Daigneault said of the start of the fourth quarter. “Lu hit that shot that kept it at five. We were in striking distance with 12 to play. Just didn’t get off to the start that we wanted to.”

OKC gave up the fourth-quarter run with Lindy Waters III on the floor, who played a season-high 19 minutes. He was held scoreless and had just two assists. Entering Friday, the two-way player totaled five minutes in three appearances this season.

Questions arose about Daigneault’s decision to play Waters III heavy minutes in a winnable game, but the coach revealed it was a predetermined decision.

“He was a really critical part of our team last year,” Daigneault said about Waters III. “… I’d been kinda marking a game where I thought he’d be good.”

It was a bogged-down, low-scoring contest for both teams in this in-season tournament game. The Thunder shot 45% from the field but went an icy 7-of-30 (23.3%) from 3. Ball security was a problem as OKC committed 17 turnovers that resulted in 23 points for the Kings.

“We missed a lot of good looks,” Giddey said. “I thought — myself included — turned the ball over too many times… Just one of those nights where you can’t make shots and they make a few more than you do and win the game.”

Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 33 points, points were difficult to produce for the Thunder. The other four Thunder starters were a negative-11 or worse in their time on the court.

Meanwhile, the Kings shot 42% from the field but played the number game with the outside shot as they went 13-of-47 (27.7%). The efficiency wasn’t there but the sheer volume helped give Sacramento a notable advantage from deep.

Rebounding continues to be a concern for OKC. It allowed the Kings to grab 16 offensive boards — 11 more than its own amount. This resulted in 23 second-chance points for the Kings in a seven-point game. The Thunder are 25th in the league in rebounds at 41.3 per game.

The Kings — who were without De’Aaron Fox for a fifth consecutive game due to an ankle sprain — had Domantas Sabonis step up in their pivotal win. The multi-time All-Star collected a triple-double of 17 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds.

Kevin Huerter led the Kings in scoring with 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. Keegan Murray had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Overall, it wasn’t a good day in the office for the Thunder. Just from the opening minutes, it felt like this was going to be one of those types of nights for OKC where things didn’t go its way.

To the Thunder’s credit, they made it interesting during several points in the second half instead of simply laying down and taking the loss. Alas, those runs went in vain and OKC couldn’t escape a poor night with a win.

“They went out and got that game,” Daigneault said. “I thought they outplayed us tonight from the jump. That was the difference in the game. They were the more ready team.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

With the Thunder struggling to generate points, Gilgeous-Alexander proved to be OKC’s one good constant in the loss.

In 38 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 33 points on 14-of-25 shooting, seven rebounds and six assists. He went 5-of-6 from the free-throw line as 19 of his shot attempts happened inside of the paint.

21 of Gilgeous-Alexander’s points came in the second half as he tried to lead a comeback for the Thunder.

After playing the entire third quarter, OKC couldn’t survive the opening minutes of the fourth quarter without its All-NBA player as the 11-3 Kings run happened with him off the floor.

Chet Holmgren: C-minus

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It was a relatively quiet night for Holmgren, who faced the unique challenge of facing one of the best playmaking centers in the league in Sabonis.

In 30 minutes, Holmgren had 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting and seven rebounds. He went 0-of-3 from 3 and turned it over four times. He was limited to three points in the second half.

Holmgren added to the struggles of the non-SGA starters tonight. With the starters struggling, he checked out at the 9:34 mark of the fourth quarter and didn’t check back in until the 3:33 mark.

Not playing for six consecutive minutes in the fourth quarter of a winnable game goes to show it was one of those types of nights for Holmgren.

“Coming into a tough arena to play in, the crowd was in it, the other team was competing at a high level, they weren’t going to make it easy for us,” Holmgren said about the loss.

Cason Wallace: C-plus

A lack of bench production also played a role in this ugly loss for the Thunder. OKC’s bench only produced 18 points, with Wallace accounting for nearly half of them.

In 24 minutes, Wallace had eight points on 3-of-7 shooting and went 2-of-5 from 3. To shake things up, Daigneault decided to start the 20-year-old rookie over Lu Dort in the second half.

The adjustment worked to a certain degree as Wallace scored all eight of his points in the second half and OKC was a plus-three when he was on the court, but it wasn’t enough to impact the final result.

Jalen Williams: C

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

With the non-SGA starters struggling, Williams finished second on the Thunder in scoring. In 31 minutes, he had 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting and five rebounds.

Williams scored 10 points in the first half but was held in check in the second half with four points on 2-of-6 shooting. Considering OKC cut its deficit to as little as two points, better production is needed from one of the best players on the team.

“Think just hitting early,” Williams said on the rebounding issues. “Being out there, being small we obviously know we got to be a little scrappier. Rebounding is a very physical thing so a lot of that is on us.”


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