And that’s why basketball is awesome…the epic range of emotions. From the excitement of the first half, the Kings best 24 minutes of the season, to the agony of watching a 27-point lead slip from their grasp. The inevitable feeling of disappointment…and then…PURE JOY! James Johnson etched his name into Sacramento Kings history with an incredible shot that sent the already raucous crowd into exuberant mayhem. The buzzer-beating triple gave Sacramento a 106-105 win over the Knicks.
BLESS YOU, JAMES JOHNSON – Has a team ever needed a miracle shot as badly as the Kings? The turbulence from a season of losing, disgruntled players and apathetic owners washed away for one night thanks to James Johnson (29 MIN, 17 PTS, 8-14 FG, 7 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK). Let’s start by saying that Johnson has played so much better as a backup power forward as opposed to small forward. It’s clear that’s his better position, as he’s strong enough to take on 4’s and quick enough to beat them to the rack. Against the Knicks, Johnson was a confident, hard-working contributor. He showed off his much-improved jump shot throughout the game, and when it mattered most, how about Johnson, sitting at 0-for-11 from downtown on the season, drilling a three-pointer for the game? Amazing. The frantic final 20 seconds included a clutch DeMarcus Cousins steal, a badly missed bank shot by Isaiah Thomas, James Johnson fighting to keep the offensive rebound alive, John Salmons passing up a corner shot to narrowly squeeze a pass back to Johnson at the top of the arc. And then…Victory. So awesome.
SPEAKING OF BOOGIE – DeMarcus Cousins made his return to the starting lineup after missing two games stemming from his dust-up with Keith Smart. Things started well. Cousins (31 MIN, 15 PTS, 5-14 FG, 10 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK, 2 TO) got a six-minute stint to start the game, and he appeared ready to work. He showed off some nice chemistry underneath with Jason Thompson, finished well at the rim and was willing to move the ball to open teammates. Unfortunately, toward the end of the game, Cousins reverted back to the player that disappoints Kings fans. He continually forced one-on-one attempts at Tyson Chandler, who thwarted every chance. The problem was, Cousins wasn’t trying to score. He was trying to get fouled, and the refs were rightly having none of it. Smart would have been totally justified if he removed Cousins in the final minutes. Thankfully, DMC’s pick-pocket to set up the winning play salvaged his night. But on the whole, it was a lackluster performance.
FIRST HALF EXPLOSION – Oh my goodness, the Kings came out like sharpshooters in the first half. Everything they threw at the basket went in. In a two-minute stretch during the first quarter, the Kings dropped four three-pointers on four straight possessions. The bench came in, and the fireworks continued. Aaron Brooks (19 MIN, 10 PTS, 4-6 FG, 2-3 3FG, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TO) and Jimmer Fredette (19 MIN, 15 PTS, 6-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 4 AST, 2 REB, 2 TO) took turns lighting it up, as the Kings shot out to a 68-41 lead. You knew you couldn’t expect that for 48 minutes and sure enough, the Knicks made a spirited run in the second half. But that first-half shooting display was incredible.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Keith Smart probably would have taken quite a bit of slack for his rotations had the Kings blown this one. In the first half, he couldn’t lose, as both the first and second units lit up the scoreboard. But the starters frittered away the lead in the third quarter, and Smart sat idly by. The once 27-point lead was trimmed to 10 before Smart made his first substitution; that’s too long … Aaron Brooks provided the Kings early nominee for Play of the Year in the second quarter. Knicks forward Chris Copeland leaked out for what looked to be a clear layup. Brooks chased down Copeland, leaped like he was shot out of a cannon and blocked the 6-foot-8 Copeland’s attempt at its highest point. With the crowd on its feet, the Kings capped it off by pushing the ball upcourt and finding Fredette for an open three. Awesome effort by Brooks, reminiscent of Isaiah Thomas’ block last season against Portland … Speaking of Thomas, Smart moved the second-year guard back into the lineup for this one. Thomas (29 MIN, 11 PTS, 3-10 FG, 3-6 3FG, 4 AST, 0 TO) played well while orchestrating the first-team offense. Just to keep things interesting though, Brooks also stepped his game up and certainly earned all of his playing time … Part of the new rotation meant limited minutes for Chuck Hayes (4 MIN, 1 AST) and no action for Thomas Robinson. The Hayes part was probably a one night thing, but Robinson will be hard-pressed to find minutes. He’s playing very poorly, and James Johnson has become a much better option as the bench power forward … Kudos to the defensive effort from Salmons, Francisco Garcia, Thomas and Johnson. The Knicks have a high-powered offense, and all four of those guys were called upon to make big plays on the defensive end. From chasing around shooters to battling bigger players in the post. All rose to the occasion.