That’s the type of quality effort that you gotta appreciate from the Sacramento Kings. We’re talking about a young, 19-36 Kings squad taking on the San Antonio Spurs, who hold an NBA-best 43-12 record. And really, it was just a slow start and lackluster shooting that did the Kings in. At several points, it looked like the Spurs were ready to put the nail in the Kings coffin, maintaining a comfy 14-point lead in the second half. But Sacramento never quit. They hung around, and spurred on by a loud home crowd, the Kings nearly came all the way back. But alas, a 108-102 defeat was the result.
COMEBACK KIDS – If you wrote the Kings obituary, down 13 with four minutes left, you couldn’t be blamed. But on this night, Sacramento impressively fought back, a major feat against a veteran powerhouse like San Antonio. Keith Smart went to a four-guard lineup and had to feel some satisfaction seeing Gregg Popovich change his plans to match this unorthodox unit. But even with the Spurs matching up, the Kings excelled. Marcus Thornton (24 MIN, 16 PTS, 6-16 FG, 4-9 3FG, 4 REB, 1 STL) finally got loose from a defensive clamp and scored eight straight points to pull Sac within three points with 55 seconds left. In the end, the Kings were unable to corral two key rebounds — Tyreke Evans couldn’t hang on to one and the slow-to-react Kings were outhustled by Tim Duncan for another. Because of these misplays, the Kings never had the ball with a chance to tie. Still, it was a valiant effort that you had to respect.
SLOW START PROVES COSTLY – Sacramento would love to erase Tuesday’s first quarter. The Kings shot a paltry 19 percent from the floor, failing to connect on several open looks. Thankfully, Sacramento got the Spurs in the penalty and scored nine points from the free throw line in the first. Unlike many nights, things actually turned in the Kings favor when they went to the bench. Jimmer Fredette (21 MIN, 10 PTS, 4-12 FG, 2-5 3FG, 3 AST, 2 STL) took advantage of Tony Parker’s break to score 10 first-half points, leading a charge that brought the Kings within three. The return of both team’s starters again tipped the scales for the Spurs, who held a nine-point halftime advantage.
DMC MIA – DeMarcus Cousins’ ineffectiveness was another key reason the Kings couldn’t pull off the upset. It was one of those (many) nights where Cousins seemed to be battling the refs as much as the opponent. There were no major blowups, but Cousins got into foul trouble and became discouraged with a perceived lack of whistles in his favor. Tim Duncan’s stat line may not be the most impressive, but the NBA legend made Cousins work extremely hard on offense. The two were in constant battle, and Cousins (27 MIN, 11 PTS, 3-9 FG, 8 REB, 4 AST, 3 TO, 2 BLK) couldn’t find a rhythm because of it. As a result, the Kings had no interior option offensively and had to turn to unreliable perimeter shooting.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Isaiah Thomas was a huge bright spot in this one, and his sick handles had the Spurs on skates all night long. Thomas (31 MIN, 22 PTS, 6-10 FG, 8-8 FT, 2-4 3FG, 4 AST, 2 TO) was a confident floor general who penetrated the San Antonio defense and converted from the line. Definitely building on that strong All-Star weekend showing … Tyreke Evans also impressed in this one; moreso for his work defensively. Evans (31 MIN, 20 PTS, 6-15 FG, 7-8 FT, 5 REB, 1 AST, 3 STL) guarded everyone from Tony Parker to Boris Diaw and did so with his typical tenacity. Reke was also aggressive on offense and a few missed fast break opportunities kept him from a big game … Speaking of Parker, what a pest. Clearly the difference maker in this one. Kings were also burned by Danny Green, who parked himself in open corners and killed Sacramento from downtown … Gotta make layups, Chuck Hayes. Evans set him up on a tee in the third quarter, and Hayes’ miss really killed some building momentum.