After a road trip in which the Kings contended every night but only managed one win, Sacramento needed to start off the second half on the right foot. Thanks to a team-wide effort, the Kings did just that. Maybe the All-Star break was the rest the team needed because Sacramento came out hustling all over the court on both ends. And while the Kings were certainly sloppy with the basketball throughout the game, their late-game execution was much crisper than in recent games, enabling them to grab a 103-96 win in front of an emotional home crowd.
GIVIN’ IT YOUR ALL – It truly was a team win for the Kings. In recent years, Sacramento might look to one player to feed off of, counting on him to ignite the charge. But now, Sacramento is full of players who only know one way to play. One unheralded player who again stepped up against Utah was Jason Thompson (36 MIN, 10 PTS, 8 REB, 3 BLK). Thompson does the dirty work in a lineup loaded wth scorers, and against the Jazz, he was there again, tipping in misses, scapping for loose balls and providing tough low post defense. The A+ effort from all players is really the most noticeable improvement in the Keith Smart era. Coach has the players laying it all on the line, and that will lead to more wins. And if it doesn’t, it’s hard to complain when you see a young team truly fighting for every inch on the court.
ZEKE WARMS UP – It’s hardly a surprise, but Isaiah Thomas, after a pedestrian first half, was the Kings offensive firepower in the final 24 minutes. Something clicks in this guy’s head — when the game is tight and up for grabs, Thomas kicks it into overdrive. Zeke (39 MIN, 18 PTS, 8 AST) started attacking the basket, overcoming stingy defense by Earl Watson and Devin Harris. He has such great body control around the hoop, allowing him to finish in a variety of ways despite his short stature. And when he gets that confidence going, the jumper magically starts falling. Defensively, it looked like Thomas was attached to Watson’s hip. His typical on-ball pressure was amplified tonight, and it really knocked the Jazz out of rhythm. If you had to nitpick, you might point to Thomas’ five turnovers, a result of some overdribbling. But Thomas has been more efficient in all of his other starts, and his other contributions tonight more than made up for it.
THE GROWTH OF DMC – Unbelievable how far DeMarcus Cousins (32 MIN, 22 PTS, 18 REB) has come this year. Last year and early on this season, Cousins could so easily be taken out of his game by physical play or perceived poor officiating. All of a sudden under Smart, Cousins grew thick skin. Against Utah, Cousins dealt with one of the best post combos in the NBA in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. And all Cousins did was outscore and outrebound both players combined. It frequenly got nasty underneath, but DMC was up to the challenge, snatching one-handed boards, using his body so effectively to carve out space on both ends and serving as the team’s go-to guy in the post. The technical, while certainly detrimental to the team, was more of a wrong-place, wrong-time situation, and luckily it didn’t affect the outcome. Far more impressive was Cousins’ efficiency — 6-of-7 from the line, only one turnover and eight offensive boards.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Tyreke Evans (31 MIN, 4-12 FG, 13 PTS, 2 AST) couldn’t find his way against Utah. He missed two open jumpers in the second quarter, and it looked like that fried his confidence … Marcus Thornton had a quiet 21 points. Nothing from long range, but several layups and clutch free throw shooting to ice the game … John Salmons’ 18 minutes off the bench were somewhat uneventful, but it was interesting to see him serve as the second unit’s primary ball handler. He also hit a crucial jumper in the final two minutes, so you gotta give him credit for that … Nine total rebounds from Chuck Hayes and JJ Hickson in 28 combined minutes. Now if we could just get them to hit a few more shots around the basket (2-for-9 combined).