OKLAHOMA CITY — A sixth defender could not stop the Thunder.
Sacramento big man Willie Cauley-Stein paced to the scorer’s table with about eight minutes to go during Monday’s game in Oklahoma City. As he readied to lean up against the table, a common move for players waiting to check into the game, he realized a quick way to contribute.
Paul George was coming his way, flaring to the right wing and about to receive a pass from Russell Westbrook. Just what Cauley-Stein thought would occur did. Westbrook swung the ball to an open George on the perimeter. With no legal defender around him, George rose for a shot.
Cauley Stein tried his best before getting comfortable against the table. Hand towel still draped over his head, he leaned forward and yelled.
George swished it anyway, one of four 3s he made and one of the 16 triples the Thunder sank during their 106-101 win over the Kings.
“It’s the same thing as fans,” George, who scored 21 points, said. “You don’t really pay attention to what’s going on.”
The 16 treys is one short of tying the franchise record, which the team set a month ago in Memphis. It was the most notable difference in a game that was far too close for far too long against a tanking team, a theme for Oklahoma City, which has put up similar performances after the All-Star break against Orlando, Dallas, Phoenix and now Sacramento twice.
George made four 3s for the first time since nailing six during that franchise record-breaking win in Memphis on Feb. 14. Carmelo Anthony hit five 3s, the first time he’s done that since downing seven against the Kings the first game out of the break.
It didn’t stop there. Newest member of the Thunder, Corey Brewer, hit another triple. Spot-up specialist Alex Abrines hit two. Russell Westbrook, who went for 17 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds, his 99th career triple-double, nailed a couple, as well. Raymond Felton and Terrance Ferguson chipped in on a night when Sacramento was giving Oklahoma City its looks from beyond the arc.
“All they’re saying is, like, ‘Look, if you make 3s, cool. We’re living with that. We’ll take our chances on that,’” Steven Adams, who exited the game with a left hip contusion and did not return, said of the Kings defense. “That’s all they’re saying.”
Of course, the Thunder struggled in other aspects.
On a night when they hit just about everything from the outside, they fought to find shots from the middle. The Kings packed the paint, converging on OKC players who infiltrated the paint. It opened up the outside but turned the area around the basket that much more jammed.
“Outside some rolls to the basket, it was hard to really get to the rim,” Donovan said.
But draining 16 of 36 3-pointers mattered. It broke a theme: the Thunder hadn't been successful from beyond the arc since the All-Star Game.
Anthony had shot a usual 35 percent from range since the break coming into the night. But George was shooting just 26 percent, and Westbrook was at just 16 percent.
“I’m totally confident. As many 3-point shots Carmelo can get off that are clean, good looks, that’s a good thing for our team,” Donovan said. “Same thing with Paul. Same thing with Patrick Patterson.”
The Thunder's third straight win brings to them to 40-29 on the season, good for fourth place in the Western Conference, where standings change every other minute. They face just one more “gimme” game before a daunting stretch: 11 straight games against squads currently five-or-more games over .500 before closing the season against the Grizzlies.
They’ll play in Atlanta on the second half of a back-to-back Tuesday.
They’re hoping the shooting can stay hot then.
“We can’t look at tomorrow as a guaranteed win,” George said. “We’ve got to go out there and perform, play to our ability and continue this winning streak going.”