The Kings got off to a great start to the second half of the season, closing out the Utah Jazz in the final quarter in what was a very close and very chippy game. For Kings fans, the victory was just the cherry on top of the great news from yesterday that the framework for an arena deal had been formed. Joe and Gavin Maloof were both in attendance, and both came out to thank the fans and Mayor Johnson:
The Mayor himself came later in the game straight and received a huge and well deserved standing ovation.
As for the game itself, it was a very entertaining affair, with 20 lead changes and 15 ties all going down to the final minutes. DeMarcus Cousins was the best big man on the floor, with 22 points and 18 rebounds in 32 minutes. That marks the 9th time this season DeMarcus has had at least 15 points and 15 rebounds, only two away from the Sacramento-era record of 11 by Chris Webber (H/T Alex Kramers).
The rest of the starters all scored in double digits as well. Marcus Thornton finished with 21 points, Tyreke Evans had 13 and Jason Thompson had 10 to go with 8 boards and 3 blocks. Isaiah Thomas continued to prove that his recent play isn't a fluke, finishing with 18 points and 8 assists, of which 15 points and 7 assists came in the second half alone.
Utah was led by Devin Harris, who looked much more like the Devin Harris that made the All-Star team in 2009 than the poor shadow he has been since coming to the Jazz. Harris finished with 18 points on 7-10 shooting to go with 7 assists and 2 steals. He also went 3-4 from three point range (remarkable for a career 30.6% shooter), including one ridiculous fallaway three with Isaiah draped all over him. Josh Howard was another former All-Star with a good game, chipping in 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals while starting for the injured Raja Bell.
As was mentioned earlier, this was a very back-and-forth game. The largest lead for either team was just 7 points, but the game was between one or two possessions apart much of the time. The first quarter saw the Kings get off to a quick start thanks to the interior dominance of Cousins, a trend that would continue throughout. Considering the Jazz are no slouches in the big man department with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, it was quite nice seeing Cousins thoroughly outplay them.
The Kings had trouble getting anyone other than Cousins going though. Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas weren't having their shots fall. Marcus Thornton did chip in 7 points, thanks to his continuing improvement from moving without the basketball. More importantly, his teammates have done a great job of finding Marcus when he does cut to the basket, and it results in easy points.
However the Jazz played more consistently early on and got out to a lead near the end of the second quarter that they maintained for much of the first half. At the start of the 2nd quarter, both sides heavily featured their bench rotation, and Utah's bench was getting the better of Sacramento's for most of that stretch. Jimmer was getting pressured heavily whenever he had the ball, which forced him into some mistakes, J.J. Hickson and Chuck Hayes were missing easy shots, and John Salmons was playing point guard for some reason. It was not a good look, and the Jazz got out to a quick six point lead. At this point, Keith Smart sent Isaiah, Marcus and Tyreke to the scorer's table, but it was then that the bench began to redeem themselves. Jimmer hit a deep three and followed it up on the next possession with a nice dish to Chuck Hayes, and the Kings cut the lead down to one. Smart pulled back the subs and let the bench continue to play. The Jazz only led by three going into halftime. Up to this point, the Kings had only been shooting 36% from the field to Utah's 46%, so a three point deficit wasn't too bad.
Sacramento came out with much better energy in the third quarter. Isaiah Thomas really pushed the tempo and along with some nice buckets from attacking the basket, he did a very good job of finding his teammates. DeMarcus Cousins continued to dominate inside and the Kings got the lead back going into the fourth quarter.
The Jazz weren't about to go quietly though, and tied the game at 80 apiece on a C.J. Miles three pointer. Isaiah came back on the other end and immediately pulled up for a three of his own, that of course splashed in. It was honestly a terrible decision to shoot that three right then, but it was awesome, because it went in.
The Jazz still kept on coming though, taking the lead at 87-85 on a fastbreak layup by C.J. Miles. The Kings then got bailed out on the next possession. Isaiah made a bad decision and the Jazz stole the ball. Utah didn't convert though and Isaiah got bumped by Derrick Favors in the backcourt, and the refs called a foul, sending Isaiah to the line since Utah was in the penalty. John Salmons then made a driving layup on the next possession after Utah missed, Francisco Garcia came from behind to block a jumper by Al Jefferson, and DeMarcus Cousins scored on the other end to give the Kings a 91-87 lead with 4 minutes left. All the momentum was now going the Kings' way, and it carried on through to the eventual victory.
Free Throws were a big part of why the Kings won. Sacramento hit 24 of its 29 opportunities at the stripe while Utah shot just 50% (11 of 22) on its own attempts.
DeMarcus Cousins, Thornton and Isaiah will get a lot of the credit for the victory tonight, but an unsung hero was Jason Thompson, whose defense on Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson was crucial to the victory. Millsap, a guy who rightly could have been on the All-Star team this year, was held to just 4 points and 2 rebounds, and Jefferson had just 12 points. Both Thompson and Chuck Hayes did a great job at negating Utah's size. Francisco Garcia and John Salmons also did a great job defensively on keeping Utah's wings in check, something that really hurt the team the last time they played in Utah. Salmons didn't score much, just 4 points, but he contributed with his defense, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists.
There were things the Kings could have done better. Tyreke Evans was very quiet from the field, scoring just 13 points on 12 shots. The team as a whole also had 17 turnovers, 5 by Isaiah. A lot of those were unforced or caused by a player trying to do too much.
The Kings get a brief respite before facing the new look Los Angeles Clippers at home on Thursday for the first time this season.