Following two ugly home losses to beatable teams, it was only right that the Sacramento Kings responded by bringing down one of the league’s best. Whether it was the players only meeting that took place earlier in the week or simply the Kings continuing their tradition of pushing elite teams, Sacramento was a different looking squad Tuesday night. Things started poorly with the Portland Trailblazers pouring in 35 first quarter points. But not one player on the Kings shut down. In a reversal of recent games, the Kings upped their intensity, hustled all over the floor and leaned heavily on their main offensive weapons. Despite the Herculean effort of Damian Lillard, Sacramento beat Portland to the finish line and sent a delighted crowd home with a 123-119 victory.
100% EFFORT: THAT’S ALL WE ASK – Someone should tell these guys that if they bring that effort every night, they might actually blow out some lower-rung teams. A potent Portland team certainly went through stretches where open shots were missed. But it’s no surprise that good things tend to happen when you work your butt off. The Kings played every possession hard: rotations were quick, shooters were contested, bigs were bodied and Sacramento was clearly a more cohesive unit on the defensive end. Portland was held to 43.3 percent shooting, while Kings-killer LaMarcus Aldridge shot 40 percent, including just 1-of-8 in the third quarter when the Kings took over the lead. Coach Michael Malone’s job is to get his players to bring that heart every game. It was clearly appreciated by the Sacramento crowd, which responded with ovations throughout the game for the Kings effort.
COUSINS ANCHORS THE MIDDLE – DeMarcus Cousins (43 MIN, 35 PTS, 13-28 FG, 9-15 FT, 13 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 2 TO) speaks of wanting to be a leader, and to be honest, he often falls short on the court with his attitude. Well, Tuesday the Kings big man led his squad and exhibited the exact demeanor you want to see from a leader. There really wasn’t one instance against Portland where Cousins lost his cool, shook his head or bemoaned a teammate. DMC was the Kings rock in the middle, taking on a strong Blazers front line and delivering on both ends. Cousins flashed the offensive skill that has him at the top of the NBA center rankings, splashing in mid-range jumpers and powering home timely putbacks. On defense, DeMarcus was involved and active. That workman-like approach is what you want to see every night. Skip the theatrics, just play ball. That’s how you become a leader, and that’s what Cousins was.
GAY RISES IN SACRAMENTO – Sometimes a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered, and maybe one bad year in a bad situation shouldn’t define a player’s career. While his Sacramento career is still young, Rudy Gay (31 MIN, 32 PTS, 10-16 FG, 9-9 FT, 3-5 3FG, 5 REB, 4 AST, 1 TO) continues to prove that theory correct. Gay’s impact as that much-needed scoring sidekick was on full display against Portland. Before Gay arrived, what wing player on the Kings could take over a game for significant stretches and take a load off of Cousins and Isaiah Thomas? Nobody even came close. In the fourth quarter Tuesday, Gay poured in 11 points in the first 3:41, providing the lift needed for the Kings to separate themselves from the Blazers. Gay’s decision making was never a problem: nothing forced, all shots taken where he wanted them, and against quality defense, no less. Obviously, the Kings don’t win that game without Gay, and if he hadn’t fouled out (terrible call), the last few minutes would not have been so hectic.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Derrick Williams (31 MIN, 14 PTS, 4-7 FG, 6-10 FT, 5 REB, 1 STL) deserves a ton of credit for his performance Tuesday. D-Will has had trouble getting involved lately, so against the Blazers, he took matters into his own hands. Relentless attacking of the basket and great touch at the hoop. The Kings needed his energy … Unfortunately, you can’t talk about this game without mentioning the refs. Just embarrassing. This is not even a Kings-focused complaint. Both ways, this referee crew was a joke. 86 free throws. That can’t be what the NBA wants … Jimmer Fredette (11 MIN, 5 PTS, 2-5 FG, 3 AST, 1 TO) actually provided some quality minutes behind Isaiah. The Blazers did him a favor by playing Mo Williams with Lillard, giving Jimmer a more favorable matchup. Aside from one ill-conceived drive in the fourth, Fredette was effective and maintained control of the Kings offense. Sacramento ran smooth offense with him in the game, and that’s a rarity … Marcus Thornton (22 MIN, 3 PTS, 1-5 FG, 8 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK) moved into the starting lineup, but the Kings still got nothing. He has absolutely no feel for his shot, and his missed 12-footer in crunch time made you cringe. The Kings responded with some big lineups that featured Gay at the two-guard and Derrick Williams on the floor … Just eight turnovers for Sacramento, including none from Isaiah … Jason Thompson (35 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-4 FG, 6 REB, 2 STL) was another unsung hero, but he filled his role to a T. Good work on the boards, active defender and the occasional offense.