Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 1/26/13
SACRAMENTO -- It's a good thing when your team's unquestioned star credits a reserve for coming off the bench to spark the team. And that's what Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant did after the Thunder shook off its first-quarter malaise and raced to 105-95 victory over the Sacramento Kings Friday night before a crowd of 15,022 at Sleep Train Arena. Durant praised former Kings guard Kevin Martin, who along with Durant, shared high-scoring honors in his first game back in Sacramento since being traded to Oklahoma as part of the deal involving James Harden earlier this season. Martin and Durant each scored 24 points, but it was Martin who entered the game during the Thunder's early struggles and helped the Thunder recover with 15 points in the first half. "It doesn't make a difference who we are playing or where we are playing," Durant said of the team's reaction to falling behind 23-9 in the first quarter. "We're just going to keep playing and working hard defensively and believe we're all right. Then when you have a guy like Kevin Martin coming off the bench to hit his first couple of shots, it gives our team confidence that our shots are going to start falling." The Thunder's shots did begin to fall. Durant alone is a mismatch because he's too tall and too talented for most NBA defenders. Then throw in point guard Russell Westbrook and another mismatch usually is the result. Westbrook had a Kings-opponent season-high 14 assists and used his size and strength to overpower the Kings guards. Westbrook added 18 points "Often, teams start with smaller guards on me," Westbrook said. "But they usually don't last long. That's our game plan to post me and punish the smaller guards either with me scoring or passing out of the double-teams we figure are going to come. Thunder coach Scott Brooks long has been one of Westbrook's biggest supporters. "He's one of the best in the league," Brooks said of Westbrook. "His passing (Friday night) was great and guys were making shots for him. We played with force on the offensive end, but it always starts with our defense." Martin said it's always nice to play in Sacramento. "This is the place I basically grew up in," Martin said. "I know these rims pretty well and I've had some great times in this arena." Durant said Oklahoma City's style of team play helps the Thunder when they struggle. "We just pass up good shots to get great shots," he said. "It's always good when guys sacrifice shots." The Thunder (34-10) used the second and third quarters to overwhelm the Kings (16-28) with athleticism and defensive intensity. The Thunder held a 58-51 halftime advantage before opening the third quarter on a 28-10 run. The Kings turned over the ball six times and the Thunder transformed those turnovers into eight points and a tempo beneficial to their style of play. Neither team took good care of the ball with the Thunder being sloppier than Sacramento, committing 20 turnovers to the Kings' 18. The Kings were led in scoring by small forward Tyreke Evans. The Thunder did a solid job on center DeMarcus Cousins. The third-year center had been on a streak, but scored just 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Cousins could not solve the Thunder's quickness and length at the defensive end and committed seven turnovers. Kings coach Keith Smart said his team couldn't worry about having a back-to-back scenario with Denver. "That's the way the schedule is laid out," Smart said, "so we just have to play the game. You have to play great against Oklahoma City and I thought we played a good first half. Our guys came out flat in third quarter and that's where the game made a big turn." NOTES: Only Houston (103.3) and Charlotte (103.2) allow more points per game than the Kings (103.0) and their defense has been more erratic during the past week. They allowed 110.0 points per game in the past two games and an average of 90.7 points during the three games preceding that pair. ... Oklahoma City entered this game 2-2 in the midst of season-long six-game trip. ... The Thunder's 43 percent allowed defensive percentage is third-lowest in the NBA. ... Oklahoma City entered the game leading the NBA with a 39.1 3-point field-goal percentage. ... Brooks had modest goals with regards to Cousins: "I'd like to keep him under 30 points and 20 rebounds. I know he's had games like that. We'd like to keep him under control, especially on the offensive boards." Brooks said having Hasheem Thabeet might help. "He's been a surprise. He's a willing player when it comes to defending. Hash gives you an honest effort every time out and works hard."
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