This one fell right into the Sacramento Kings typical pattern this season. Against a Dallas Mavericks team that needs every win to ensure a postseason berth, the Kings battled and held leads throughout the game. It was a back-and-forth affair, but when crunch time rolled around, it was disappointing, yet unsurprising, to see the Mavericks make the crucial plays. Sacramento fell just short, losing to Dallas, 93-91.
THE FINAL PLAY – Sacramento commendably fought back from a 90-84 hole with one minute left. Three Dallas misses from the free throw line — including one from the automatic Dirk Nowitzki — gave the Kings a chance, trailing by two with 7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Ray McCallum pushed the ball to the left wing as Rudy Gay approached to take the handoff. Dallas’ pressure forced McCallum to keep the ball, but the rookie point guard was left wide open for an angle triple. Unfortunately, Ray Mac was clearly not expecting the clean look because he continued to search for a teammate. He found DeMarcus Cousins on the baseline, but his fallaway jumper was partially blocked. It’s hard to bemoan a freelance play, but the Kings may have been better suited having the hot-shooting Gay (44 MIN, 32 PTS, 12-18 FG, 7-9 FT, 6 REB, 8 AST, 2 TO) receive the initial inbounds and set up his own shot. McCallum didn’t make a mistake but passing on an open three for the win didn’t help the cause.
COUSINS SHINES, WHINES – DeMarcus Cousins (38 MIN, 28 PTS, 12-23 FG, 4-4 FT, 10 REB, 1 AST, 3 STL, 2 BLK, 4 TO) has been supremely motivated over the past few weeks, a pleasant sight on a team that is essentially playing for pride. Against Dallas, Cousins was a monster inside and out. He seemed to convert a variety of incredible shots around the rim, looking like a contortionist as he shimmied through the defense. But with Cousins’ passion comes the flip side — his struggle to remain level-headed. While he caught himself before completely erupting, it was clear Cousins was irritated with a lack of whistles (and on some occasions, rightfully so). The Kings held a two-point lead with 5:33 left, but Cousins’ frustration on the offensive end kept him from retreating defensively on back-to-back possessions. The Mavs burned the Kings with a pair of Vince Carter triples and never trailed again. No matter how pissed you are with the refs, you have to get back on defense — it’s a disservice to your teammates and in this one, it may have cost the team the game.
KINGS SUPPORTING CAST GOES MISSING – The Mavericks tried a few different defensive schemes designed to get the ball out of the hands of Cousins and Gay. Dallas employed double teams for both players, as well as a zone, during the course of the game. The strategy worked to perfection because the Kings supporting cast laid a big fat egg. While Gay and Cousins combined for 60 points, the rest of the team managed just 31. Ben McLemore (28 MIN, 5 PTS, 2-9 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2 REB) and Ray McCallum (48 MIN, 8 PTS, 4-12 FG, 0-4 3FG, 4 REB, 9 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TO) were off rhythm and continually missed badly from the perimeter. Travis Outlaw (24 MIN, 6 PTS, 2-5 FG, 4 REB) looked primed to pick up the slack, burying two long-balls in the fourth quarter. But when the pressure was on — Outlaw had a clean look from three in the final minute — he failed miserably. It’s tough to win with two players, especially when playing a sound defensive unit like Dallas.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Peja Stojakovic was in attendance, and the former Kings sharpshooter got a rousing standing ovation when announced in the first quarter. Players from both squads joined the applause in a classy gesture … Sacramento struggled to defend the three-point line, allowing the Mavericks to knock down 13 from distance … Gay was an assassin from mid-range, carrying the Kings offense with his tremendous ability to rise over smaller defenders and rip the net … The block-charge call played a big factor. Derrick Williams was called for a questionable charge when DeJuan Blair slid under him, negating a basket. Cousins completed the same maneuver and was called for a charge, leading to a three-point play for Monta Ellis. Tough break.