At this point, you have to admire the resolve of Sacramento Kings fans, who endured another tough defeat at the hands of a beatable team Saturday night. With the Minnesota Timberwolves in town, the Kings, sporting a roster that could be considered full strength, survived a first half full of turnovers thanks to some terrific offensive play from the usual suspects. But when Sacramento broke the locker room for the third quarter, the energy level hit the floor. Minnesota sprinted past the meager Kings, who couldn’t get out of their own way. A feverish fourth quarter comeback, aided by great bench play and a raucous crowd, pulled the Kings as close as two in the closing minutes. Unfortunately, the third quarter hole was too much to overcome, and the T-Wolves escaped with a 108-97 victory.
THIRD QUARTER MELTDOWN – It’s tough to pinpoint just why the Kings completely collapsed in the third quarter, but on both sides of the ball the team fell short. Offensively, the Kings were out of sync, and the turnover problems from the first half carried over. The worst part is most miscues were self-inflicted — guys stepping out of bounds or forcing tough passes into crowded spaces with little chance of success. The T-Wolves took advantage of those turnovers (19 on the night) by getting out on the break. When Sacramento did retreat, Minnesota worked the ball around until something opened up — in the third quarter, Dante Cunningham torched the Kings from the midrange. Minnesota outscored Sacramento, 31-14, in the third, a deficit the Kings just couldn’t quite overcome.
NOW YOU SEE RUDY, NOW YOU DON’T – In the first half, Rudy Gay was on fire, a marskman from the outside who carried the Kings into halftime with the lead. Gay (33 MIN, 24 PTS, 8-14 FG, 4-7 3FG, 4-4 FT, 6 REB, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TO) made 8-of-12 shots in the first 24 minutes. That’s why it was so puzzling to see him completely disappear in the second half. You can credit Minnesota for keeping him locked up, but really, the Kings did little to get him involved. And with how desperate Sacramento was for offense in the second half, the lack of touches for Rudy was a real problem. Gay’s first shot in the second half didn’t come until just 2:59 remained IN THE GAME. He took one more shot, perhaps the biggest attempt for the Kings all night. After Sacramento pulled within two, Rudy got free on a fast break but missed a lightly contested layup, effectively stopping the Kings momentum. It was a crushing miss, but Gay’s second half disappearance was even more damaging.
A COUSINS YOU CAN BELIEVE IN – This seemingly happens every year for DeMarcus Cousins. He returns from a suspension like a new man — gone are the theatrics and sideshow antics, and in their place is a man focused solely on winning the game. That was the Cousins (33 MIN, 21 PTS, 9-16 FG, 3-5 FT, 17 REB, 3 AST, 3 BLK, 2 TO) that showed up Saturday, and it was so refreshing. Despite drawing some tough whistles while defending Nikola Pekovic, DeMarcus was able to look past it. He channeled all of his energy into helping the Kings go for victory. Cousins’ jumper was smoking, and he fought the T-Wolves bigs down low all night. He never got down on his teammates and was quick to share the ball or play help defense. It was a terrific performance, and one that will likely bring some Kings fans (like myself) off the ledge. All we ask for is that type of effort every night. He’s a fun player to watch, and also hard for opponents to handle, when he’s focused on hooping.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – The Kings bench unit was a real bright spot, mopping up the Kings third quarter mess and re-igniting Sacramento’s chances to win. It’s not the prettiest lineup, but Ray McCallum, Orlando Johnson, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy and Reggie Evans left it all on the floor … McCallum (28 MIN, 9 PTS, 3-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 3 REB, 5 AST, 1 TO) really played better than his shooting line indicates. He finally got a little bounce in his step thanks to some long-range conversions, and his energy on both ends was much needed. He’s outplaying Ben McLemore (21 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-7 FG, 5 TO) right now, and Coach Michael Malone recognized it, playing Ray Mac at the off-guard spot to finish the game … Acy (15 MIN, 0 PTS, 0-1 FG, 5 REB, 3 BLK) provided maybe the biggest spark with his big defensive plays, including two big blocks during the Kings comeback attempt … Orlando Johnson (12 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-8 FG, 1 REB, 1 AST) is trying to impress and really played aggressive. He got some tough rolls that skewed his shooting numbers, but he’s definitely a hard worker … Isaiah Thomas (34 MIN, 22 PTS, 10-18 FG, 0-5 3FG, 2 REB, 8 AST, 2 TO) was knocking down pull-up jumpers like he was Beno Udrih. Such a talented scorer. Even with his long-range jumpers not falling, Thomas was a force … How frustrating is it to guard Kevin Martin, the king of drawing fouls? That was more fun when he was on the Kings. Martin tortured McLemore with some his patented drive-and-flails.