This one had all the makings of a letdown. While the Sacramento Kings definitely brought enough offense, their defense was another story. For three quarters, the Kings lost track of their assignments, overplayed passes and got overpowered by the Rockets. That was until the fourth quarter when another energetic crowd was finally treated to some excitement. Led by hot shooting and a new dedication to defense, the Kings turned a ten-point fourth quarter deficit into a 117-111 victory.
PIZZA GUY STRIKES AGAIN – Oh, what a great sight it has been to watch Isaiah Thomas (33 MIN, 23 PTS, 4-10 FG, 2-3 3FG, 13-13 FT, 6 AST, 2 TO, 2 STL) emerge (again) as the Kings spark plug from the point guard position. After weeks of floating mindlessly, rotating turns as the ball handler, Thomas took charge Saturday and did it again Sunday. With his team treading water and time becoming a factor, Isaiah pushed the tempo. Rather than settle for the jumper (although he did drill two crucial triples in the fourth), Thomas took the ball right into the foul-ridden Jeremy Lin. The result? Lin fouled out with 2:40 left and Thomas scored 17 of his 23 points in the final frame, nine coming from the free-throw line. The Kings are a different team with Thomas leading the charge. They are what they should be — fast, explosive and fun to watch.
DEFENSIVE UNIT GETS IT DONE – Keith Smart watched quietly as an awful defensive squad put the Kings in a big second half hole. With Jimmer Fredette (8 MIN, 3 PTS, 1-3 FG) ineffective and DeMarcus Cousins in foul trouble, Smart thankfully switched to a more defense friendly lineup. Thomas was flanked by Francisco Garcia and John Salmons, while Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson manned the middle. It was a pivotal move. Hayes (24 MIN, 8 PTS, 2-4 FG, 4-4 FT, 12 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL) stood out again, battling both inside and picking up perimeter players with great success. Garcia (18 MIN, 11 PTS, 4-7 FG, 3-4 3FG, 3 REB, 1 STL) drew the assignment of bulldog James Harden. With the help of his teammates, Cisco at least made life a little more difficult for Harden. The Kings outscored Houston 23-11 in the final 5:30 thanks to better focus on the defensive end.
GARCIA AND SALMONS ARE ALL YOU NEED – Sacramento posted a 33-point fourth quarter. Thomas, as noted earlier, had 17 in the quarter. Salmons had 10, and Cisco had six. Yep, that’s all 33 points from three players. Garcia’s contributions were noteworthy on defense. But his clutch long balls were just as big; his second put the Kings ahead with 3:43 left. And John Salmons (36 MIN, 23 PTS, 6-14 FG, 4-7 3FG, 6 AST, 2 TO, 2 STL) was a force all night. Not a lot of dribbling from Salmons against Houston. He just found gaps on the perimeter, set up shop and trusted his point guard would find him. Salmons also was clutch down the stretch, nailing 7-of-7 from the line to ice the game. He had the shooting touch, and thanks to him and Garcia, the Kings as a team knocked down 11-of-20 from downtown.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – It was a shame Cousins got into foul trouble because he was unstoppable in the first half. The Rockets had no answer, as Cousins (24 MIN, 20 PTS, 9-14 FG, 7 REB) had it working inside, and his jumper was silky smooth … A few spirited chants of “Sac-ra-men-to” and “Here We Stay” touched off around the arena but obviously nothing like Saturday’s scene. A large contingent of Jeremy Lin supporters were present … Thomas Robinson (15 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-11 FG, 7 REB, 2 TO) worked hard but couldn’t keep his composure with the ball. Sometimes, he just needed to take a second, maybe pull the ball back or go up calmly. But he opted to force too many chances underneath.