Nothing like a good benching to light a fire under a team. Michael Malone promised lineup changes, and the Sacramento Kings coach made good on his word, calling up Ben McLemore and Jason Thompson to the starting five. Against the aging Brooklyn Nets, the new-look Kings responded to their coach’s challenge. The energy level from every player was noticeably higher, and that enhanced every aspect of the game for Sacramento. The ball moved quicker, open shots were knocked down with efficiency and the Kings ran the Nets out of the gym, 107-86.
THORNTON ANSWERS THE BELL – Heading into Wednesday, the consensus among Kings fans was that Ben McLemore would be the new starting shooting guard, and the question was how would the rookie respond. Well, McLemore (15 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-8 FG, 2 AST) flopped in his first start, and the demoted Marcus Thornton (34 MIN, 24 PTS, 10-19 FG, 4-9 3FG, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL) exploded off the bench. There was a bounce in his step that has been missing for far too long. Thornton entered the game and immediately showed off his long-range prowess. The shots fell, the confidence built and the Kings fed off the energy provided by Thornton. What a difference it makes for the team to have that one premier perimeter scorer, and as an added bonus, Thornton was terrific on the fast break. Exactly the way you hoped he would respond to his benching — no sulking, just a renewed desire to compete and help the team win.
GENERAL GREIVIS VASQUEZ – The Kings had their floor leader Wednesday, as Greivis Vasquez (33 MIN, 17 PTS, 7-13 FG, 2-6 3FG, 4 REB, 12 AST, 2 TO) completely controlled the game from halftime on. With Sacramento setting hard, quality screens and shooters knocking down shots, the space was there for Vasquez to operate, and the Kings point guard took full advantage. Vasquez was sensational with the ball in his hands, whipping passes to open men yet picking and choosing the perfect times to find his own offense. The result was his best game in a Kings uniform and a Sacramento offense that looked miles ahead of where it was last week.
LATE GAME LINEUP – The Kings held a comfy lead heading into the fourth quarter, but with Brooklyn making a spirited run, Coach Malone turned to a small lineup to control the game. Isaiah Thomas (26 MIN, 19 PTS, 5-11 FG, 2-3 3FG, 7-7 FT, 6 REB, 6 AST, 1 TO) ran along side Vasquez, while Thornton shifted to a third guard. DeMarcus Cousins (22 MIN, 15 PTS, 5-14 FG, 9 REB, 3 BLK) was left to fend for himself as the lone big man. On this night, the small lineup worked and was a joy to watch. Thomas and Vasquez are great complements — two ultimate competitors who want the rock but don’t demand it. Thornton gave both a great outlet on the perimeter to keep defenses honest. And despite foul trouble that ultimately took him out of the game, Cousins fought hard down low, taking care of a lot of dirty work on both ends of the floor. The final five was an energetic, hard-working bunch that iced the game and made Brooklyn look old and decrepit.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Other new starter, Jason Thompson, brought exactly what the Kings were lacking. Thompson (26 MIN, 9 PTS, 4-12 FG, 11 REB) crashed the glass, played stout defense and got on a legitimate hot streak from mid-range … Even John Salmons (31 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-5 FG, 2 AST, 2 STL) seemed energized (that’s right). He hit his shots and looked intent on giving Paul Pierce a hard time defensively … Stellar mark from the Kings: 26 assists to just six turnovers … Back to McLemore, outside of a great finish on an alley-oop early on, the Kings rook never found his game on either end. He tried to force the issue with no results. Just a tough night all around; nothing to worry about … Patrick Patterson (26 MIN, 8 PTS, 3-8 FG, 10 REB) was a steady performer off the bench. P-Pat still couldn’t hit the outside shot, but he was full of energy and hit the glass hard. Another guy probably motivated by his demotion.