Kings Lose Season-Opener to Thunder

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder completed step one in avoiding another horrendous start to the season.

Durant had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Jeff Green added 24 points and the Thunder led from start to finish in a 102-89 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.

A year after opening their first season in Oklahoma City with a 3-29 record, the Thunder hit 10 of their first 13 shots and built a double-digit lead in the first 6 minutes of the game, then never let Sacramento mount a serious comeback in Paul Westphal's debut as coach.

"It feels good to get a win on our opening night on our home floor," Durant said.

Nenad Krstic added 20 points and Russell Westbrook had 14 points and a career-high 13 assists for Oklahoma City in front of a sellout crowd of 18,203.

"I think the start is big for us this year. If you get into a hole like we did last year, it makes the whole year tough," forward Nick Collison said. "You're kind of always fighting mentally to believe that you can win games.

"It's just one night, but it is encouraging."

Kevin Martin made all 14 of his free throw attempts in the first half to keep the Kings within striking distance, but had just three points after halftime to finish with 27. The NBA's seventh-leading scorer last season, he missed his last seven shots after hitting a 3-pointer to start the second half.

First-round draft picks Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi combined for 25 points for Sacramento, and Jason Thompson had 11 points and nine rebounds. Casspi, the first Israeli-born player in the NBA, had 15 points on 7 for 9 shooting. Evans, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft, shot just 5 for 16 and had 10 points, two assists and three turnovers.

"He can play a lot better than that," Westphal said of Evans. "He was relatively ineffective. I know he'll do better."

The start was exactly what the Thunder needed after what happened last year.

Oklahoma City shot 67 percent in the first quarter and matched its highest output in a period from last season to rush out to a 39-22 lead. The Thunder eventually built their advantage to 23 points in a game that looked nothing like Sacramento's 104-89 rout of Oklahoma City on the same floor six days earlier.

In that game, Sacramento got hot from 3-point range in the second quarter and led by 31 after three despite playing without Martin.

"They came out on fire shooting, which you have to expect, and we didn't show enough urgency defensively or on the boards at all," Westphal said. "What should have been a little run for them maybe turned into an avalanche: 39 points in the first quarter. We were trying to dig our way out the whole rest of the game."

Oklahoma City scored 39 points in a quarter only once last season, eventually losing 114-113 to Denver, and never had that many in the first period. But the team that led the NBA in turnovers last season had none through the first 10 minutes of the game to build the big lead.

"That's one of the best first quarters we've ever had," Durant said. "Guys did a great job of making shots -- which is rare when everybody makes shots -- but we did a great job on the other end of limiting backdoor cuts, which get them going as a team."

Green hit his first four 3-point attempts to lead an 8-for-14 outing for Oklahoma City, which snapped a five-game losing streak in season openers that dated to the franchise's days in Seattle.

"I kind of expected us to get a little down tonight at first but we stayed with it and guys didn't quit," Martin said. "It seemed like we got down about 17 and it stayed right around there the whole game."

Westphal, who was hired in June to replace Kenny Natt, who had filled in on an interim basis after Reggie Theus was fired early last season, said his biggest concern was a lack of defensive intensity for a team that finished with an NBA-low 17 wins last season and then lost out in the draft lottery.

"I like these guys," Westphal said. "They're going to get better. All we ever want to do is get better, and after that game, it should be pretty easy to see some improvement."


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