Wow. A rollercoaster of a game. The Kings fell behind early due to lousy rebounding and poor help defense. But in a surprising reversal, it was Sacramento, traditionally a slow second half starter, who came out strong in the third quarter. The Kings held Portland to 13 points in the quarter while erasing a double-digit deficit. Right when the Kings appeared to have the game locked up, the heart of every Kings fan stopped beating for 10 seconds as the Blazers had two shots to tie in the final moments. Luckily, both shots missed and the Kings escaped with a solid 95-92 win.
KINGS STELLAR DEFENSE – Not many times you can say the Kings defense was the difference in a win, but tonight, it certainly was. While there were certainly lapses in the first half, the Blazers made a lot of tough shots, many by LaMarcus Aldridge with a hand in his face. But Sacramento clamped down in the second half. No two plays better illustrated that than Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton each blocking lay-up attempts on Portland fast breaks. The Kings were rotating much better in the second half and limited the number of second chances. The three-guard lineup of Evans/Thornton/Thomas was usable on defense because Gerald Wallace was a non-factor.
THE RETURN OF MT – No, he wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but what a difference it makes to have Marcus Thornton (41 MIN, 20 PTS, 4-13 FG, 10-12 FT, 3 AST, 2 STL) on the floor. The Kings guard returned after two weeks off, and his shot was rusty. But when the game enters crunch time, Marcus rises to the occasion. The thing you love about Thornton is he has no memory. His early struggles didn’t deter him from taking big shots late. After Portland recaptured the lead with six minutes left, Thornton responded with back-to-back baskets — a triple and a driving layup — to give the Kings a three-point advantage. He’s still the guy who should have the ball with the game on the line. Great to have him back.
SALMONS ENDS HIBERNATION – Well, well, well…welcome to the Kings, John Salmons. Sacramento’s disappointing small forward finally found his shooting touch. Salmons (38 MIN, 19 PTS, 8-14 FG, 8 REB) did a lot of his damage early on, scoring 12 points in the first quarter. He really did nothing different than games past — the rock-and-fire, the spot-up three. The shots were just falling. He can’t possibly be as poor a shooter as he’s shown this year (can he?). If Salmons can just knock down his open jumpers, play solid defense and help out on the boards like he did against Portland, he will at least no longer be a negative on the court.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – The Kings offense down the stretch was less than stellar. Slow to get into sets, no post option, no real plan. Will have to improve … The return of Thornton pushed Jimmer Fredette, not Isaiah Thomas, to the bench. Jimmer did not play. And while you’d like Jimmer to get some minutes, based on production, Isaiah (17 MIN, 4 PTS, 3 AST, 1 BLK) has to get the nod … Foul trouble took DeMarcus Cousins (15 MIN, 8 PTS, 6 REB) out of the game, and Keith Smart chose to stick with Chuck Hayes (29 MIN, 5 REB, 2 STL) to finish. Can’t fault him for that … Tyreke (18 PTS, 8-20 FG, 18 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 3 TO) was a little sloppy throughout the game, but he saved his night by stroking the game-winning jumper … Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene were also DNP-CD’s as Travis Outlaw (11 MIN, 1-5 FG) got the backup SF minutes, but he did little to gain more run … Good Jamal Crawford in Portland. Bad Jamal Crawford in Sac.