Going into the game, San Antonio had the league's best home record at 9-0. The Kings were only 1-7 on the road and hadn't beaten San Antonio since 2007. Nobody expected Sacramento to win this game tonight, but they did, and they did so by playing like a team (for most of the game).
The Kings started the 1st quarter clicking on all cylinders. The ball movement was crisp, the offense was up-tempo and the Kings were hitting their shots. This looked like the team that Keith Smart was promising when he took over, and it was glorious. The Kings finished the quarter up 32-20, with 9 assists and only 1 turnover, and would push the lead to 15 early in the 2nd. The Spurs are not pushovers however, and they started to take advantage of the Kings mistakes. The offensive ball movement also began to stagnate as San Antonio's defense tightened, and Sacramento was lucky to still be up at halftime.
The Spurs kept it close for much of the second half and finally took the lead late in the 4th as they started to string some threes and fast break buckets together. Tony Parker was the catalyst of the comeback, and he finished with 24 points and 6 assists, with no other Spur scoring more than 10. Down by 4 points with a minute and a half left, the Kings had to get a couple of big shots from somewhere. It wasn't the clutch Marcus Thornton who stepped up however, but the oft-maligned John Salmons. John hit two consecutive jumpers to tie the game, and Tyreke Evans hit the deciding bucket on the next possession to give the Kings the lead.
San Antonio had two chances to tie the game and failed on both possessions thanks to some good Kings defense (which was good all night, holding the Spurs to just 37.8% shooting). The Kings tried to extend the lead to 4 after the Spurs 1st attempt, but the shot rimmed out and was almost corralled by Sacramento for a 2nd chance but instead went out of bounds, giving San Antonio a final chance with 5.5 seconds left. The Kings had a foul to give, and according to Tyreke Evans' post-game interview, the initial plan was to use it. Instead the Spurs inbounded the ball to Tim Duncan (who had sat for most of the 2nd half) and looked to have him either pass it to a cutting Tony Parker or hand it off to Danny Green. Tyreke Evans did a great job of sealing off Parker, and Green got the ball and actually got a decent bit of space, but missed the running floater badly. Tim Duncan had position on DeMarcus Cousins and managed to tip it, but it was also short and the Kings won just their second road game and also won consecutive games for the first time this season.
Tyreke Evans was the clear star of the game, with 23 points on 10-19 shooting (including the de facto game winner) along with 11 rebounds and 7 assists to just 2 turnovers. Tyreke is definitely evolving as a player, especially in the mid-range. He is starting to realize that when he drives, teams will pack the paint, so the mid-range jumper is there, the pass is there if they swarm him, or he can attack the basket. He still makes some mistakes, but definitely not as many.
DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Thornton were also huge, with both scoring 17 points. Cousins added 13 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals thanks to his great anticipation and quick hands. Cousins left the game in the 3rd quarter after being hit in the head by DeJuan Blair, but he came back midway through the 4th and had some timely rebounds. Most of Marcus' damage came early, but he also added 4 assists. He cooled off later in the game however and did have 5 turnovers. Marcus is not a terrible playmaker, but it's definitely not thinking about creating for others most of the time. The guy is a scorer, and will look to get his points above all else. This can both help and hurt a team, and tonight it did a bit of both. There's no way the Kings don't win without a couple of Marcus' scoring bursts, but he also made it difficult on the team with some of his poor decisions, particularly the possession late in the game where he had the ball for 10 seconds with a defender right in his face and then opted to shoot a tough contested two pointer right inside the three point line, literally the worst shot you can take in the NBA.
Jason Thompson started again and again continued to play well, having a 10 point, 10 rebound double-double in 30 minutes. His hands did look they were being remote controlled by someone else at points though as he fumbled a couple of nice passes and shot attempts that should have been easy buckets.
As mentioned before John Salmons came up big for the Kings late, with two of his three buckets coming in the deciding stretch. He also hit a three and played very solid defense on Richard Jefferson, who went just 2-8 from the field. This is the kind of game from Salmons that I can live with, and hopefully it's a nice confidence booster to get him out of this shooting slump.
The bench for Sacramento wasn't anything special, but there were some good contributions. J.J. Hickson came in and was phenomenal at hitting the offensive glass, snagging 4 (6 total rebounds), and scoring 6 points on 3-6 shooting in 24 minutes. Isaiah Thomas got good looks on offense but couldn't hit shots, but drew a key charge late on Tony Parker.
The Kings also struggled from the Free Throw line, going only 11-19, which almost cost them the game. The ball movement and shot making also sagged off after that incredible 9 assists / 1 turnover 1st quarter, as they had just 7 assists and 13 turnovers afterwards. Still, this team is making progress under Coach Smart (now 4-5 since taking over) and hopefully they can carry this momentum into Memphis tomorrow.