That’s the NBA, and there’s really nothing you can do about.
The Sacramento Kings entered Friday’s game against the NBA-leading Indiana Pacers with seemingly no chance in hell of keeping it close, let alone pulling off the upset. With Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins relegated to street clothes, it would be a collection of mostly role players who would have to contend with the best defense in the league and MVP candidate Paul George.
Well, it just so happens that collection of Kings brought their lunch pails. With heart and 100% effort, Sacramento refused to hand anything over to Indiana without a fight.
Marcus Thornton got the ball rolling. After scoring just 33 points in his previous nine games combined, the man they used to call Lil Buckets dropped 22 on the Pacers in the first quarter. With two guns down, Thornton answered the bell, finishing with a career-high 42 points and recapturing that swagger that has been sadly missing for months.
His backcourt mate? Equally as impressive. Isaiah Thomas took the reins down the stretch, guiding the Kings offense. When it appeared the Pacers were seizing control, it was Thomas sticking clutch jumper after clutch jumper to keep the Kings on top. It was the passionate performance you’ve come to expect from the Kings floor general, who finished with 38 points of his own.
The others played their butts off. Jason Thompson controlling the glass with the big fella on the sideline. Travis Outlaw taking advantage of some run with a couple timely jumpers. Carl Landry battling for every rebound and loose ball. Aaron Gray, while clearly outmatched, setting hard screens and throwing his weight around. It was a team effort, guys stepping their games up, knowing the magnitude of the game. They didn’t have as much talent, but they weren’t going to be outworked.
And the Pacers were clearly frustrated. There were technical fouls from Paul George, David West and George Hill, and two mini-skirmishes involving Lance Stephenson. The Kings were playing the role of underdog to perfection, and the Pacers were feeling the pressure.
But in the NBA, it really can all mean nothing in the box score. All the heart can be taken away by one great play from a star with the assistance of a star-treatment call by the refs.
You can’t take anything away from Paul George, a phenomenal player who is just on another level right now. But with the Kings up by four and just 18 seconds left, the NBA reared its ugly head.
George received the inbounds pass and cashed in a great off balance three-pointer. But that wasn’t enough. Derrick Williams was whistled for a phantom foul. If anything, and it was nothing that should ever be called, it was before the shot. But hey, it’s Paul George. So the refs counted the basket. George made the free throw for a crushing four-point play. Overtime.
You also can’t take anything away from the Pacers. In today’s NBA, they’ve earned those calls by playing some great basketball. And they took advantage of a demoralized Kings team in overtime, escaping with a 116-111 victory despite five more spirited minutes from the home team.
But that hurts. The refs call that play correctly — one play — and things end differently. Instead, Sacramento has to walk away with a loss despite playing one of their most exciting games of the year.