Thunder vs. Kings: 3 takeaways, including the odd lineup & early challenge call

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In the first half of the game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder won the points battle. In the second half, they won the long game.

A 41-18 third quarter in the Kings’ favor elevated Sacramento to a 122-106 win over the Thunder, handing OKC its eighth loss in a row but allowing the team to regain sole possession of the third-best odds in the NBA draft lottery.

The Oklahoma City starting lineup of Kenrich Williams, Aleksej Pokusevski, Darius Bazley, Isaiah Roby and Moses Brown helped the Thunder score 32 points in the first quarter. OKC actually outscored the Kings overall between the first, second and fourth quarters, but that third quarter was bad enough to clinch the loss.

Here are three takeaways from the performance:

That Thunder starting lineup

There has been minimal consistency to the Thunder's starting lineup this season, but the one on Tuesday may have been the strangest of all. Pokusevski, Bazley, Roby and Brown all started on Sunday, but on Tuesday, guards Theo Maledon and Ty Jerome were both out with injury, so Williams stepped into the point guard role. "It's pretty good for D-wings like us, guys considered big men in the league," Williams said. "It was fun to have a game like that, allow everybody to bring the ball up and stuff, and initiate the offense." It was reminiscent of earlier in the season when Maledon was in COVID-19 protocol and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Ty Jerome were both injured. The Thunder managed to compete even without true guards for a couple weeks. On Tuesday, they started the game similarly. They shot 62% in the first half as a team, a season-high, and took a lead as large as 14 points in the second quarter. The Thunder offense sputtered in the second half, though, only making two 3-pointers and finishing the game with a 46.4% mark from the field. For the lineup they threw out, though, there was a reasonable amount of success. "We're all able to initiate the offense and run our actions correctly," Roby said. "I think that at this point in the season, we all know the playbook."

Kenrich Williams' night

Williams' impact often doesn't show up in the box score. More often than not, it comes from hustle, leadership and making the right play. On Tuesday, the box score blared how good he was. Williams had a team-high 20 points to go with four assists, four steals and two blocks. The former New Orleans Pelicans forward has gone from fringe rotation player to an established role player in the league. He's a near-certainty to be on the Thunder roster next season -- the only way he wouldn't have a big role is if the trade market heats up to an unbearable temperature this offseason. There were reports that teams inquired about him during this season's trade deadline, obviously to no avail. They would be smart to do so again this offseason. Even if the Thunder hang up.

The challenge 45 seconds in

At the 11:15 mark in the first quarter, Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault challenged the call of a referee. Brown had a clean block on a shot at the rim, which is likely what the Thunder saw when they challenged. But the foul was on Pokusevski, who had made contact with Chimezie Metu from behind. The point of this isn't that the Thunder lost the challenge. It's that Daigneault elected to call one 45 seconds into the game. "Two points in the first quarter is no different than two in the fourth," Daigneault said. "We had a challenge rule in the G League and the lesson I learned is that you can’t take them with you. I had so many challenges that I just never used cause you’re saving it and saving it and saving it. What I learned is if you can take points off the board, it doesn’t matter when in the game you can do it."

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