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Durant, Thunder hold off Kings

The SportsXchange

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- His team ahead by 17 points barely a minute into the final quarter, Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant had no illusions about what awaited the Thunder.

"We knew it would be hard, a battle," he said. "Winning games is not easy in this league."

That truism applies even to the slumping Sacramento Kings, who produced their usual late-game rally. Sacramento guard Isaiah Thomas' shot at the buzzer fell off the rim, giving the Thunder a 97-95 win at Sleep Train Arena and its eight consecutive victory.

Durant finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds for Oklahoma City, which nearly squandered an 82-65 lead over the game's final 10:57.

"We knew when we were up 17 that they'd be tough to put away," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, whose team improved to 13-3. "They kept fighting every possession, and their little guy got hot."

Thomas, who by his own admission mostly sleepwalked through the first three quarters, scored 21 of his team-high 24 points in the final period and got the Kings within a bucket by sinking a 20-foot jumper with 37.3 seconds left.

"I was trying to be highly aggressive," Thomas said. "I felt like I was passive in the first half, and that's why coach (Michael Malone) took me out. I wasn't doing anything offensively or defensively. ... I was able to get into attack mode."

On the game's final possession, he got a step on Thunder guard Russell Westbrook but missed a fade-away from just inside the free-throw line.

"I wanted the isolation, wanted to take the last shot," he said. "I slipped up a little bit, but I should've made it. I got a step on him. I just didn't make the shot."

The Kings, who played without center DeMarcus Cousins for the first time this season, lost their fifth straight, matching their longest skid of the campaign.

Cousins, who along with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin is one of only three players averaging at least 21 points and 10 rebounds, leads the Kings in scoring (21.7 per game), rebounding (10.1), steals (1.60) and blocks (1.20).

Without him, the Kings leaned heavily on forwards Jason Thompson (10 points, 10 rebounds in 34 minutes) and Patrick Patterson (10 rebounds in 33 minutes) down low. Point guard Greivis Vasquez scored seven of his 12 points in a game-opening, 14-2 burst by Sacramento.

However, it was Thomas who led the 30-19 charge in the fourth quarter, hitting shots from everywhere on the court and making three steals as the Kings attempted another comeback. Three of Sacramento's past four losses came by six points or fewer, and one of them came in overtime. In all, five of the Kings' 12 losses were by seven points or fewer.

"We're making progress," Thomas said. "Last year, we weren't in a lot of these games, especially against really good teams. Hopefully, it'll turn around. I know it'll turn around."

The Thunder survived because guards Jeremy Lamb (14 points) and Reggie Jackson (13 points) made 3-pointers in the final three minutes to curb Sacramento's late run. Oklahoma City built its lead by scoring 16 straight points bridging the third and fourth quarters.

"Our offense was really good, and that was feeding our defense," Durant said. "When we're making shots, that forces the other team to take the ball out of the basket and lets us set up on defense. But we knew it'd be tough at the end."

The Kings (4-12) used their game-opening blitz to build a 31-19 lead after the first quarter, but they squandered the advantage by halftime. They trailed at intermission in 13 of their 16 games and faced at least a double-digit deficit at some point in 11 contests.

NOTES: Nine-year veteran F Chuck Hayes started in place of Kings F DeMarcus Cousins (ankle). It was Hayes' first start since Nov. 13, 2012, and he finished with six points and nine rebounds. ... F Kevin Durant was named the Western Conference Player of the Month after averaging 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists in Oklahoma City's 14 games in November. ... Kings G Ben McLemore won conference Rookie of the Month honors. The first-year pro out of Kansas averaged 9.1 points in 22.8 minutes per game in the first 14 contests of his career. ... McLemore entered the game tied with Philadelphia 76ers G Michael Carter-Williams for the rookie lead in 3-pointers made with 21. ... The Thunder assigned G/F Andre Roberson to Tulsa of the NBA Development League.
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