The second half of back-to-backs have been a sore spot for the Sacramento Kings in recent years. So a night after getting smacked by the Pacers, a trip into Minnesota seemed manageable but far from a sure thing. When all was said and done Wednesday night, the Kings turned in one of their more impressive road performances of the year. Playing a Wolves team that is fighting for a playoff spot, the Kings played a marvelous game that featured everything you want to see from a young team. Some mental breakdowns at the end of the game nearly erased the effort, but Sacramento escaped with a 111-108 victory.
46 MINUTES OF BLISS – Sacramento really seized this game from the onset by pushing the tempo, executing offensively and playing with high energy on the defensive end. With DeMarcus Cousins rendered ineffective early on, the Kings instead relied on their athleticism. They got out on the break with Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams thriving from a faster style of play. In the second half, Cousins was worked into the mix but things stayed smooth. Sacramento spaced the floor, moved the ball and worked hard. There was just an energy, a swagger present that is usually missing from the team during these grueling road trips. They had confidence and never let off the gas.
TWO MINUTES OF TORTURE – The Kings amazing start nearly went to waste with a horrendous final two minutes that saw Minnesota trim a nine-point deficit to just one. And really, it’s rare to say it, but Isaiah Thomas (42 MIN, 26 PTS, 10-16 FG, 7 AST, 7 TO, 3 REB, 2 STL) was the culprit. As the point guard, it’s his job to command the team, and his failure to do so had the Kings cracking under the pressure. Rather than use a little clock and get quality looks, the Kings forced the ball early in the shot clock. These turnovers helped Minnesota get easy baskets in transition, and combined with some heroic shooting from Kevin Love, the Wolves were right back in it. Thomas compounded the problem by fouling J.J. Barea on a layup with the Kings clinging to a four-point lead. It was just mental lapse after mental lapse, and the Kings are lucky it didn’t ruin a great game.
RUDY CALMS THE WATERS – You really can’t say enough about what Rudy Gay (37 MIN, 33 PTS, 12-19 FG, 3-3 3FG, 6-6 FT, 5 REB, 6 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 2 TO) has brought to the Kings, and in Minnesota, the Kings new do-it-all small forward was on centerstage. Gay picked up the scoring slack in the first half, dropping a cool 22 points on a variety of tough finishes at the rim and turnaround jumpers from the perimeter. In the second half, Gay popped in here and there, but the Kings foolishly went away from the hot hand. That was until Gay took matters into his own hands. With the Kings getting wild and their lead dwindling, Gay calmly took the rock at the top of the arc, watched his man go under the screen and stroked a crucial three-pointer to put the Kings up five with just 19 seconds left. When Sacramento needed a bucket, Rudy was the man, and his cool hand under pressure saved his young team.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Derrick Williams (28 MIN, 16 PTS, 7-11 FG, 5 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL) was sensational in his return to Minnesota. As part of the Kings new energetic second unit, D-Will was the lead dog, attacking the basket and recognizing mismatches. His versatility is such a boost to the bench … Despite a poor first half, Cousins (34 MIN, 20 PTS, 9-19 FG, 11 REB, 5 TO) finished strong, scoring 18 of 20 in the second half. Despite five fouls and a brutal matchup with Nikola Pekovic, Cousins kept battling and had some timely baskets down the stretch that kept momentum on the Kings side. He also did a great job of keeping Pekovic, a strong offensive player, away from the basket … If Marcus Thornton (28 MIN, 2 PTS, 0-5 FG, 3 REB, 1 AST, 2 TO) could hit open jumpers, he’d be an ideal shooting guard for this team. His defensive effort is there, and he really stymied Kevin Martin. But his shooting continues to fail him. It’s unexplainable … Jason Thompson (37 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-7 FG, 10 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK) continued his streak of quality, under-the-radar performances. He was active on the glass and despite Love’s stat line, Thompson did a great job on the Wolves franchise player … Ben McLemore sprained his ankle in the first half and did not return. Early word was the injury is considered minor.