Last month, the New Orleans Pelicans came into Sacramento and laid out the Kings in front of their own fans. On Tuesday night, it was payback time. Riding the shame of back-to-back disappointing road losses, the Kings came out in New Orleans with a sense of urgency and an extra bounce in their step. Crisp ball movement and great effort defensively helped Sacramento shoot out to an early 18-point lead. And when the Pelicans made things interesting before halftime, Sacramento turned to the sharpshooting Rudy Gay to recapture momentum. The prize for a total team effort with some strong individual performances was a 114-97 victory for the Kings.
GAY GOES WILD – The Kings continue to cash in on a trade that was panned by most experts. While Rudy Gay ended Tuesday’s game by tying his career high in points, it was his unselfish play early on that really set the tone for Sacramento. Gay (42 MIN, 41 PTS, 16-25 FG, 5-8 3FG, 8 REB, 5 AST, 3 TO) spoke afterward about his new approach with the Kings: trying to make the players around him better, thus making life easier for himself. Gay’s performance in New Orleans was a prime example of this new mindset. Gay was a willing passer who found open cutters and dropped dimes out of double teams. Later, when the lanes opened for Rudy, Gay made the Pelicans pay with his own scoring talent. Rudy did most of his damage from the perimeter, stepping behind the three-point line more than usual. But when it’s falling, let it rain. Gay’s leadership and calm demeanor has clearly been a huge asset to this young Kings team.
UNSELFISH PLAY PROVES CONTAGIOUS – Truth is, Gay was one of many who helped the Kings sprint out of the gate. Every defensive rebound was pushed up the floor, and the ball never stuck in one player’s hands for too long. Guys running to the basket were rewarded with well-placed passes. As a result, the Kings posted 38 first-quarter points. While there were some lapses in the following quarters, Sacramento maintained its selfless play for most of the game. The Kings primary scorers — Isaiah Thomas (39 MIN, 20 PTS, 6-17 FG, 3-8 3FG, 11 AST, 3 REB, 3 STL, 4 TO), DeMarcus Cousins and Gay — dished out a combined 22 assists, and when your leaders share the rock, it spreads to everyone.
CHEERS TO THE ROLE PLAYERS – The Kings “Big 3″ have grabbed most of the headlines since Gay came over from Toronto. Somewhat lost in the shuffle have been the other parts of the starting lineup, Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton. But in New Orleans, these two again provided some behind-the-scenes dirty work that was integral to the Kings victory. Thompson (36 MIN, 11 PTS, 5-8 FG, 8 REB, 1 BLK) drew the assignment of guarding Anthony Davis and forced the Pelicans franchise player into a 4-for-12 shooting night. JT also finished extremely well at the basket and was all over the boards. As for Thornton, sure, his offensive disappearance continues to baffle (that airball was about as ugly as it gets). But you have to credit his defensive effort. Thornton (29 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-7 FG, 2 BLK) knows his offense is completely unreliable right now, but rather than sulk, he has decided to bring it defensively. He held Eric Gordon (7 PTS in 27 MINS) in check, and his ball-handling is a nice bonus to have on the floor. Both these guys have been solid complements to the Kings big scorers.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Coach Michael Malone preferred a big unit off the bench, using Derrick Williams (23 MIN, 8 PTS, 3-5 FG, 1 STL) at the small forward and sliding Gay to two-guard. Just as before, it delivered results. You want to develop your rookies, but Ben McLemore just hasn’t earned his playing time lately … Cousins (29 MIN, 18 PTS, 6-10 FG, 6-9 FT, 11 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 4 BLK, 3 TO) was a stat stuffer despite playing just 29 minutes. As expected, the trio of Greg Stiemsma, Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey couldn’t handle DeMarcus’ offense. On defense, Cousins stepped up, protecting the basket by swatting away shots and taking charges … The Kings picked up three technicals fouls (Cousins, Thompson, Thomas), hard to fathom for a team that led by 20 for much of the game … Tyreke Evans, who torched the Kings in Sacramento, led New Orleans with 17 points. He brought the Pelicans back with a terrific second quarter of basket attacking … Quincy Acy (23 MIN, 3 PTS, 1-4 FG, 10 REB, 1 BLK) had a career high with 10 rebounds.