As far as the criteria for a great game, this one had just about everything except the positive result. There was an amazing in-arena atmosphere from the sellout Sleep Train crowd. There was a spirited Sacramento Kings comeback, propelled by the insane individual effort of the team’s energizer, Isaiah Thomas. And there was fierce, sometimes heated, back-and-forth play between the Kings and Los Angeles Clippers. But when you’re playing a playoff caliber team, it’s the little things that kill you. A few late offensive miscues, a couple questionable calls and some huge clutch shots by the Clipper stars were enough in this one. Los Angeles ruined the Kings terrific effort, taking a 110-101 victory.
THE INCREDIBLE ISAIAH THOMAS – Oh…my…goodness. If you paid for a ticket to Friday night’s game, Isaiah Thomas (31 MIN, 29 PTS, 9-13 FG, 3-3 3FG, 8-10 FT, 4 AST, 2 REB, 1 STL, 1 TO) alone was worth the price of admission. Any question about how he’d adapt to a bench role is effectively squashed as Thomas filled his role to a T against the Clippers. Isaiah’s second half was an offensive display of basketball that hasn’t been seen in Sacramento for some time. After the Kings trimmed a 15-point deficit to eight, Thomas checked in at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter. Over the next 9:22 of game time, Isaiah poured in 17 of the Kings 28 points to pull Sacramento even with the Clips. But it was the way in which he delivered the baskets — knifing down the lane, cleverly creating space on the perimeter, behind-the-back dribbles, firing from long range with supreme confidence. Every basket garnered more oohs and aahs from the crowd. Isaiah put the team on his back, stepping up the challenge of Chris Paul and never backing down an inch. Just another day at the office for the Kings new bench dynamo.
COUSINS IN CRUNCH TIME – Overall, it was a solid game for DeMarcus Cousins (35 MIN, 24 PTS, 9-19 FG, 6-9 FT, 10 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL, 2 BLK, 4 TO) against one of the more formidable frontlines in the league. Cousins fought extremely hard down low, whether for positioning or rebounds. But if we’re going to nitpick, let’s look first at his decision making and his play down the stretch. In the first half, Cousins the point guard reared its ugly head — DMC has a terrible habit of trying to bring the ball up court instead of finding his guards. It cost the Kings two possessions. In the fourth quarter, it seemed like a mistake to go away from the perimeter play that was working and start running everything through Cousins. What would have been nice is if Cousins recognized this and passed out of the double teams to capable shooters. Over the final seven minutes, Cousins went 2-for-5 with a turnover. Not terrible but it didn’t play into what was working for the team. And after picking up a bogus technical for taunting after a blocked shot, Cousins seemed to shut down, picking up a couple lazy fouls at the end of the game. The call was awful, but you can’t let it take you out of the game, as hard as that may be.
PUT UP OR SIT DOWN, SALMONS – The Kings need all the offense they can get and it doesn’t help when two-fifths of your starting lineup is providing close to nothing. The real onus is on John Salmons (29 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-7 FG, 1 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK), who clearly needs to step up his game or be removed from the floor. Two points in 29 minutes is ludicrous. There may not be a better small forward option but Coach Michael Malone has already shown a willingness to play three guards. Whenever that’s possible, it should be done. So far, the Kings have been fighting to find points and if Salmons can’t provide any, you can’t let him coast for 29 minutes.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Chuck Hayes (12 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 REB) was useless in the first half, but picked it up in the second, showing a little more activity on the boards and moving his feet on defense. He’s another guy who should be on a short leash … Marcus Thornton (33 MIN, 17 PTS, 6-12 FG, 3-7 3FG, 4 REB) found his stroke, which would be huge for the Kings. With Ben McLemore (13 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-2 FG, 0-2 FT, 4 fouls) still finding himself, Thornton needs to be a perimeter threat. He made some big time shots down the stretch against the Clippers … The Hack-a-DeAndre-Jordan strategy failed, as the Clippers center hit 4-of-6 from the line. On the other side, Sacramento made just 71.9 percent (23-for-32) … Greivis Vasquez (20 MIN, 8 PTS, 2-5 FG, 4-4 FT, 4 AST, 2 REB, 0 TO) was solid but the amazing play of Isaiah Thomas kept him on the bench, as Coach Malone decided not to play both of his point guards together down the stretch.