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Oklahoma City holds on for 10th straight win

The SportsXchange

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In its two previous games, Oklahoma City allowed its opponents to hang around, forcing the Thunder to come up big in the fourth quarter. For three quarters on Friday against Sacramento, it looked like that would not happen again.

But once again, the Thunder needed a fourth-quarter spurt to hold off the Kings 113-103 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It may not have been pretty the entire time, but it was enough to give the Thunder its 10th straight victory, the longest since the franchise came to Oklahoma City.

"It was good," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. "We did a good job of knocking out shots. It is what we have to do for the next 48 games. We make the plays in a lot of different ways."

Oklahoma City (19-4) took a double-digit lead into the third quarter and slowly lengthened its lead. Both teams had emptied their benches in the fourth quarter as the Thunder led by 24.

However, the Kings' Isaiah Thomas led a frenetic charge to close the gap to 103-93 with four minutes left in the game. Thunder coach Scott Brooks was forced to bring his starters back in.

"I think we played with energy and heart," Sacramento's Tyreke Evans said. "We came out and played tough basketball. We kept fighting."

The Kings (7-15) closed the gap to five points before Durant came up with a bucket to stop the bleeding. Serge Ibaka and Westbrook added a couple of shots to push the lead back to 109-98.

The Kings got within six points before Durant drained four consecutive free throws, the first coming with 43 seconds left, to put the game away.

Ibaka led the Thunder charge with 18 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the year. Durant missed just four shots from the field as he racked up 31 points, four steals and six turnovers. Westbrook added 13 points and 13 assists.

"We're such a balanced team," Durant said. "Any given night anybody can go off."

Thomas came off the bench to lead the Kings with 26 points, all in the second half. Evans added 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting.

Thomas didn't play at all in the first half and had been used sparingly the last few weeks. He said he didn't do anything different against the Thunder except get on the floor.

"I got in and I just played," Thomas said. "I was just me. I was being me out there and being aggressive. Nothing was different. It was just me being me and bringing energy and playing."

Even though Kings coach Keith Smart liked how his team forced its way back into the contest, he was not happy with how his team fell behind in the first place. At one point in the third quarter, he called a time out and yelled at his players the entire time. He said it may have been the most upset he's been all year.

"I just thought we looked terrible as a basketball team at that point," Smart said. "We weren't moving the ball, we were taking horrible shots. We are going to compete and play hard, but I don't want it to look like we have no care about the game on the floor. And it showed. Eventually I changed and got people off the floor and we started playing some decent basketball."

The Thunder's 19-4 record is the best start to a season in the Oklahoma City era and franchise's best start since 1993.

Westbrook attempted to dominate Aaron Brooks in the first quarter. He started out by abusing him up in the paint, then taking him off the dribble. It looked like Brooks was going to be the victim of a serious mismatch.

However, Brooks responded with seven first-quarter points as the Kings trailed Oklahoma City 29-26 to end the first period.

The Thunder's bench gave the team some separation in the second period. Kevin Martin had his perimeter shot going while Nick Collison owned the offensive glass. They helped stretch the lead to 61-42 by halftime.

"We did a great job tonight from the start," Durant said. "We missed a few early, again, but we just kept playing defense. Everybody stuck with our defense, playing together on both ends. "

NOTES: Sacramento's Thomas sent out a cryptic tweet Thursday night that seems to be taking a jab at the team's coaching decision. "Politics as USUAL. I'm numb to it.. They won't break me!! Ima go even harder... Everything in the dark always comes to light! #TMC." Thomas hasn't started since Nov. 16 and has been replaced in the lineup by Brooks. ... The first results of the NBA All-Star voting were released Friday, and Durant is second in the Western Conference with 605,965 votes. Kobe Bryant leads the West with 639,419. Westbrook is fifth among guards, right behind former teammate James Harden. ... DeMarcus Cousins was back in the Kings starting lineup after serving a one-game suspension for striking Dallas Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo in the groin area Monday night. Forward Marcus Thornton missed his second consecutive game with what the Kings are calling personal reasons. ... Sacramento coach Keith Smart marveled at the athletic ability of Westbrook, saying he has the ability to take it to another gear. When it was brought up to Smart that Westbrook never won a national championship at UCLA like Smart did at Indiana, Smart responded "Well, he went to the wrong school."
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