You just kept waiting for that moment in the game when the Miami Heat would turn it on and blow the Kings out. Sacramento took a big lead in the first quarter; big deal, too much time left. The Kings took a lead into halftime; surely Miami would come out in the second half and coast. But as time ticked away in the second half, the Kings just wouldn’t die. It was a proud effort the likes of which Kings fans haven’t seen much of all season. One overtime, and then a second. Finally, the Kings ran out of gas and Miami escaped with a 141-129 victory in double OT. Disappointing, for sure, but it’s hard to leave this one without much appreciation for Sacramento’s performance.
58 MINUTES OF SPIRIT – The lowly Kings, losers of five straight, against the mighty Heat, winners of 11 in a row. No contest, right? To the shock of everyone, wrong. Sacramento came out as a hungry, cohesive unit focused on the daunting task. There were the typical momentary lapses — ill-timed turnovers and frequent defensive lapses (Ray Allen, anyone?). But on the whole, this was an awesome game. The Kings attacked from all angles and fought their butts off. When Miami adjusted its defense to account for the scorching Marcus Thornton, Sacramento countered with Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas. When the Heat pushed their lead to nine with two minutes left in regulation, the Kings didn’t crumble…they clawed back to force overtime. It may have been the Kings best game of the season, considering the opponent.
HATS OFF TO THE PLAYERS – The five Kings who finished the game really deserve one hell of a standing ovation. Keith Smart turned to his smaller unit at the end of the fourth quarter, replacing Jason Thompson with Thornton in order to get more offense. Mission accomplished.
*MARCUS THORNTON – The Kings gunner was in a zone players dream of. My goodness, Thornton (40 MIN, 36 PTS, 11-18 FG, 8-12 3FG, 6-8 FT, 3 AST, 2 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK) found an insane shooting groove and just rode it out. He fought for 17 points in the first half, mixing strong takes to the basket with a smooth shooting touch. And then in the second half, bombs away. Catch ball, shoot ball, swish, repeat. Thornton carried the team, forcing LeBron James to take him defensively. But that didn’t stop Thornton. It was a spectacular showing, and even if it’s just one game, Coach Smart has to respond. You don’t have to go super small, but the Thomas-Thornton-Evans trio can be used in spots. Thornton is a massive weapon that needs to be unleashed.
*JOHN SALMONS – Professional effort from the Kings vet. LeBron James’ 40-point total doesn’t do justice to the defensive work put in by Salmons, who pestered the much stronger James all game. Salmons (50 MIN, 15 PTS, 6-11 FG, 3-4 3FG, 7 AST, 5 REB, 4 TO, 2 BLK, 1 STL) played over 50 minutes and probably physically battled James for almost all of the 48 minutes James played. He came up with a huge block of James at the end of the first OT that saved the game. Offensively, Salmons was steady, stepped up with big baskets at timely junctures and facilitated offense. Nothing to complain about here.
*DEMARCUS COUSINS – This was one of Boogie’s better games as a pro — workman-like approach, an absolute monster in the paint taking on multiple Heat defenders at the rim, focused on getting the win. There were the defensive letdowns and a really bad pass in double overtime that didn’t help matters. But Cousins (49 MIN, 24 PTS, 10-17 FG, 15 REB, 5 AST, 4 TO, 2 STL) was a beast, an interior force who also flashed his unique athletic skills by pick-pocketing the Heat stars more than once. He was willing to put the team on his back and be the Kings bully down low.
*ISAIAH AND TYREKE – The Kings backcourt continues to grow; we’re finally seeing these guys play together. Thomas (48 MIN, 14 PTS, 5-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 9 AST, 2 TO, 2 REB) didn’t have to shoulder the offensive load in this one — his presence as a general and distributor were huge enough — but he, too, hit some clutch shots. Evans (43 MIN, 26 PTS, 11-19 FG, 4 REB, 4 AST, 2 TO, 5 STL) has really impressed over the past two weeks. His outside shot is evolving, his penetration skills remain strong and he plays the kind of intelligent, stout defense you’d expect from a veteran. Exciting to see these guys finally putting up solid production in the same game.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – OK, let’s take Smart to task for his play at the end of the first overtime. 29 seconds left, tie game, Kings ball. When was the last time the Kings successfully milked the shot clock down and converted before it hit zero? Trick question, it has never happened, yet Smart went that route with the game on the line. The Kings stood around as Thomas dribbled and dribbled and dribbled. Unsurprisingly, Sacramento had to scramble and never got a shot to the rim. You can understand the thought — Smart doesn’t want the Heat to get any more time than necessary. But with the amount of players thriving on offense for the Kings, why not just run a play that gets you a guaranteed look at the basket? Thornton off a curl, Evans penetrate and kick or score, Isaiah/Cousins pick and roll. Show us you know some plays, Coach, because Sacramento had a chance to win, and it was wasted … Patrick Patterson got some more run in this one. He didn’t receive a single offensive touch in the first five minutes of his first stint. He made a brief appearance in the second half, missing badly on his only field goal attempt.