New-Look Cousins Leads Kings To Narrow Win In Cleveland


Credit: Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game ever witnessed, but ask the Kings if they care. A night after falling short against a beatable Detroit team, Sacramento made just the right amount of plays down the stretch to outlast the Cavs. The new and improved DeMarcus Cousins set the tone with his play early on, and two veterans made key shots in the final minute. The end result was a gritty 97-94 win for the Kings to even up their road trip at 1-1.

COUSINS CONTINUES TO IMPRESS — You’re always hesitant to say the light has officially gone on, but DeMarcus Cousins over the last two games has been a new man. Something has clicked and only time will tell if he’s here to stay. In Detroit and again tonight in Cleveland, Cousins (34 MIN, 18 PTS, 7-17 FG, 4-4 FT, 16 REB, 6 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TO) has established himself as a guy committed to the team. He immediately looked to set up teammates against the Cavs, finding Francisco Garcia beautifully on backdoor cuts in the early minutes. Eventually, he found some offense himself, and a constant was his effort on the boards and defense. And for the harshest of critics (like myself), the best thing to watch has been Cousins keeping his cool, accepting fouls, smiling and generally enjoying himself on the court. This Cousins is the one you can build around.

SALMONS, BROOKS TURN CLUTCH — This game appeared headed for a typical Kings finish: valiant effort, tight game and Sacramento loses at the end. But thanks to John Salmons and Aaron Brooks, the Kings were able to take the lead and keep it. Cousins found Salmons (32 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-6 FG, 3 REB, 3 AST, 3 TO, 1 STL) in the corner with the Kings trailing 90-89 and 52 seconds remaining, and the small forward cashed in a huge long-ball to put the Kings on the top. After a Kyrie Irving turnover, Brooks (29 MIN, 13 PTS, 6-10 FG, 3 AST, 2 REB, 1 STL, 0 TO) milked the clock, blew past Irving and floated a layup over the tall trees to give Sacramento a commading four-point lead with 18 seconds left. Before those baskets, the Kings converted just three field goals in the final seven minutes of the game. It looked like the offense had dried up, but the team’s two veterans made sure this one ended in a Kings win.

APPRECIATING JT — Jason Thompson (36 MIN, 19 PTS, 8-16 FG, 10 REB, 2 AST, 3 BLK, 1 TO) deserves recognition nearly every night for his steady, efficient play. The Kings held a big time advantage down low, and it wasn’t just Cousins doing damage. Thompson has developed into such a productive finisher around the basket. Comparing him to the Thompson of past years…it’s like night and day. Against the Cavs, JT also did a solid job of stretching the floor. He and Cousins have developed a strong bond this season, and the two can really cause problems for teams, like Cleveland, with their size, athleticism and work rate. Keith Smart said it well after the game: You never have to worry about Thompson. You just look at the box score and see all the ways he contributed to the win.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS — Francisco Garcia (34 MIN, 14 PTS, 6-13 FG, 2-6 3FG, 6 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK) also deserves credit for a stellar all-around game. Cisco has been great filling in as the starting two-guard with Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans out. He’s knocking down shots, which he struggled with last year … Oh, the joy of watching James Johnson (16 MIN, 8 PTS, 2-6 FG, 4 REB, 1 TO). A fun guy to watch when he plays within himself — primarily on defense — and a guy you want to punch when he tries to play point guard or shoot up contested jumpers … Isaiah Thomas (19 MIN, 8 PTS, 3-8 FG, 4 AST, 1 TO, 1 STL) started but had trouble penetrating Kyrie Irving. He played better in the second half but gave way to the more productive Brooks.