Kings 102, Jazz 103: Hard Fought Comeback Ends in Heartbreak for Sacramento

March 20, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings head coach Keith Smart calls out to his players against the Memphis Grizzlies during the third quarter at Power Balance Pavilion. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 119-110. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The Kings ended their record 9 game homestand tonight with a loss to the visiting Utah Jazz. Al Jefferson tipped in a shot with 0.9 seconds left in the game to give Utah the lead and Marcus Thornton missed a well-contested 35 footer at the buzzer. Despite the loss, the Kings continued to play (for the most part) the same brand of basketball that has made this team so exciting to watch recently.

The Kings had 28 assists for the second game in a row, and this time on just 43 made field goals. Every King that played finished with at least one assist, and all but three had at least two. Rookie Isaiah Thomas led the team with 7 to go with his 9 points. Sacramento shot just 40.6% from the field, compared to 47.3% for Utah. Funnily enough, both teams made the same amount of shots, but Sacramento had 15 more opportunities thanks to offensive rebounds, where the Kings dominated (26 offensive rebounds to just 11 for Utah).

DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson were a huge part of the Kings dominance on the boards, with DeMarcus having 18 (10 offensive) and Jason finishing with 15 (8 offensive). DeMarcus added 22 points, 3 assists and 2 steals as well, but shot an atrocious 9-28 from the field. Jason Thompson continued to prove that his performances of late aren't just a fluke, scoring 19 points (on 8-15 shooting) with 1 assists, 2 steals and a block. Jason was injured on the play that won Utah the game, spraining his left ankle. Jason could not leave the court of his own volition at the time, but apparently it is only a minor sprain and he hopes to play Saturday in Oakland.

Tyreke Evans once again came off the bench and was absolutely phenomenal, scoring 25 points on 11-17 shooting, showcasing his layup skills for the world to see. Tyreke's defense was also very, very good throughout the game, limiting Utah's penetration and poking several balls away as he finished with a game-high 3 steals.

Al Jefferson was the hero for Utah not only at the end of the game but throughout, as he led the game with 26 points on 13 of 19 shooting. He abused the Kings with a series of quick post-moves and short jumpers, and didn't really slow down until Chuck Hayes came in to guard him. Jefferson also had 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. DeMarcus Cousins could learn a lot from watching tape of Jefferson in the post.

Sacramento had to fight back from a 10 point deficit to begin the 4th quarter, a lead that had gotten as high as 14 points in the 3rd quarter. The Kings did quick work to begin the final period, tightening up both their defense and offense to get back in the game. At one point Utah missed 14 consecutive Field Goal Attempts. The Kings fought back but had several mistakes that would end up costing them.

Before I get any farther I want to say that this was one of the worst officiated games I've ever personally attended. Violet Palmer and her crew did a terrible job, missing several blatantly obvious calls. Keith Smart even got whistled for a technical after a particularly egregious one and the crowd started applauding him. That being said, the Kings could have still won the game despite the officiating.

One big thing that really hurt the Kings was Free Throws. Sacramento shot just 12-21 from the line, compared to 14-17 for Utah. In a one point game, that's huge. In the final three minutes alone, the Kings went just 1 for 5 from the line, including misses from good free throw shooters in Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton.

Another thing that hurt the Kings were several fastbreak opportunities that they botched because they weren't patient and threw errant passes. I remember three specifically: A Jimmer to Tyreke pass that was too high for Tyreke to catch, an Isaiah to JT lob that JT couldn't control and went out of bounds, and a Marcus to Isaiah pass in the 4th that was too far ahead of Isaiah and went out of bounds. Those all should have been easy buckets for Sacramento.

Sacramento did most of their damage in the comeback in the first 5 minutes of the final quarter, tying the game at 91 with 6:52 left on a nice sweeping hook by Chuck Hayes on an inbound play. After that the game became a grind it out, back-and-forth affair that saw both teams with chances to separate but could not.

Devin Harris responded to the tie with a three point attempt that was off. Harris was just 2-7 from three, but each of his attempts were wide open, good shots. The Kings got a bit lucky there. Tyreke got the rebound and broke out, getting fouled and giving the Kings the chance for their first lead since the 1st quarter. He hit the first free throw, but missed the second.

Utah missed two three pointers on the next possession, but Sacramento couldn't respond as John Salmons missed a long two pointer. Salmons finished with just 1 point as he missed all 4 of his field goal attempts. He did finish with 6 assists to just 1 turnover though, and played good defense on C.J. Miles and Alec Burks. I would have liked Isaiah to come in for him a bit earlier in the quarter for some more offense, but I understand he was in for defensive reasons.

On the other end of the court, Gordon Hayward got fouled by Chuck Hayes and made both of his free throws to give Utah the lead back at 93-92. Hayward finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal and a block, and had just a really good all-around game. Marcus Thornton was on him most of the night and that was a tough matchup for Marcus as Hayward has about 5 inches on him.

Both teams traded missed baskets, and then Tyreke Evans stole the ball from Devin Harris and streaked up for a layup, which he also missed, but he got his own rebound and scored anyway, giving Sacramento the lead right back with 4:20 left in the ball game.

The Jazz missed yet again, as a short jumper by Al Jefferson rimmed out. Isaiah Thomas, who had just entered the game for John Salmons, just barely missed a short jumper of his own, and Hayward got the rebound and streaked upcourt, with Tyreke Evans doing a great job of staying in front of him in transition. Isaiah Thomas came from behind and cleanly stripped the ball away from Hayward, but then Violet Palmer happened. Palmer whistled Tyreke for a non-existant (UPDATE: Commenters have chimed in and said that it was indeed a foul) foul, sending Hayward to the line as the Kings were in the penalty. Hayward hit both of his free throws (he was 6-6 from the line for the game) and Utah had the lead back.

Tyreke Evans wasted absolutely no time bringing the ball right back at Utah, and he hit a driving layup and got fouled, giving the Kings a chance to go up two. I mentioned how phenomenal Tyreke was, but he was especially great in the 4th quarter, where he scored 11 points. He missed the free throw attempt though, leaving the score as 96-95 Kings with 3:11 left.

Utah came back and gave the ball to Paul Millsap, but he was stripped by Tyreke Evans, who quickly threw it up to Marcus Thornton. Thornton then did one of the mistakes I mentioned earlier, tossing it too far ahead of a streaking Isaiah Thomas, resulting in a turnover of their own. It would have been an almost sure basket for the Kings, but I can't get too mad at Marcus for getting a little excited and not waiting a second or two before passing.

That turnover led to a timeout, and Utah again failed to respond after some good defense by the Kings led to a missed C.J. Miles jumper. DeMarcus Cousins grabbed the rebound, but was stripped by Paul Millsap. Fortunately for the Kings, Millsap took too many steps when trying to spin around Cousins for the layup, and was called for traveling. It was the second bad game in a row against the Kings for Millsap, as he finished with just 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Marcus Thornton took it the other way and got clobbered on the drive, sending him to the line with 2:06 left trying to give the Kings a three point lead. Marcus, clutch in so many ways, and an 86% free throw shooter to boot, was exactly who we wanted at the line at this point, but he missed his second attempt, making it just 97-95.

The Jazz missed on their next attempt yet again, but Tyreke Evans was blocked by Devin Harris on the other end on his own layup attempt, which the Kings and fans perceived to be a foul. There was no whistle though and Utah had a two on one developing, and Al Jefferson calmly knocked down the wide-open jumper to tie the game with 1:36 seconds left.

The Kings took it down low next time, giving it to Jason Thompson, who missed the short shot but got his own rebound, getting fouled in the process. Jason had been stroking it from the line recently, but badly missed both of his attempts here. DeMarcus got his hand on the offensive rebound, but missed a tip of his own, and Devin Harris quickly came back and hit a jumper to give Utah the 99-97 lead.

The Kings went down low again, this time to DeMarcus Cousins, who had his shot blocked out of bounds by Paul Millsap. The inbounds play saw Tyreke get a short shot, but he also missed it, but managed to grab the offensive rebound and kick it to a wide open Isaiah Thomas for three. Isaiah missed it as well, and the ball went out of bounds, seemingly off of Utah. The call on the floor however was Utah ball, but being in the last two minutes, the refs were able to review the play and correctly gave the ball to Sacramento with 31 seconds left.

Isaiah inbounded the ball to the three point line to Marcus Thornton, who had his head down and was hunched over as it looked as if he was pondering a drive to the basket. Instead he straightened up and launched a three with his lightning quick release, and Mr. Big Shot delivered. The three hit nothing but net, getting the crowd up on their feet and Sacramento the one point lead with 27 seconds left.

The Jazz weren't done yet, and rookie Alec Burks made a difficult layup with 12 seconds left to give the Jazz the lead right back. The Kings had just 8 seconds to respond, and made quick work of it, giving the ball up top to Marcus Thornton, and this time he drove it, straight to the basket and for the layup with 4.1 seconds left. Sacramento had a one point lead and needed just one more stop to win.

The Jazz called their final timeout to draw up a play and drew up an exceedingly good one. Devin Harris attacked the basket off of a screen from Al Jefferson, who then immediately cut to the rim, as did Paul Millsap from the baseline. John Salmons and DeMarcus Cousins heavily contested Harris' fading sideways layup attempt, but while it missed badly, Jefferson was in perfect position for the tip in and got it to go in with 0.9 seconds left. It was here where Jason Thompson rolled his ankle.

0.9 seconds is still plenty of time for a quick shot though. It wasn't a situation where the Kings only hope was a lob play or something of that nature. The play was simple enough, as they simply gave it to Marcus Thornton at the top of the arc. He had to shoot it over two defenders, from about 30 feet, and badly missed. As such, the Kings lost, and it put a damper to an otherwise successful homestand and a good effort by the Kings.

This Kings team is currently playing winning basketball. Before the season, this was a team labeled as a bunch of selfish ballhogs who wanted nothing else but to get their own shots, and for a lot of the season, that was how they played. That has all changed recently though. Keith Smart has gotten this team to play unselfish basketball, and there are few teams that are as dangerous offensively as a team full of good scorers who also share the ball with each other. We've also seen the defensive intensity step up from everyone involved, although they need to learn to bring it for 48 minutes a game (Utah scored 58 points in the 1st half and was shooting 54% through three quarters). This team is definitely on the right track if they keep playing this way.

With the Homestand finally over, we'll get to see this new-look Kings team finally take its show on the road for a couple games. They face a Golden State team on Saturday that embarrassed them just last week. We'll see if they can get revenge, and more importantly, keep playing this style of basketball.

Random Observations:

  • Isaiah had his own cheering section at the game tonight in section 119. There were a few people in Thomas jerseys and one couple had purple LED lit I and T letters. Hilariously, the Kings PA called them the "IT Department". This needs to become a thing.
  • DeMarcus Cousins does NOT like Devin Harris and the feeling is mutual. They got into it a bit the last time they played, and they almost got into it again this game.
  • Cousins picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, but Smart let him play through it for almost the rest of the quarter and he didn't pick up a foul again until the second half.
  • The Kings had a possession in the third quarter where they had seven field goal attempts and six offensive rebounds before they finally scored. That has to be some sort of record.
  • Marcus Thornton could be shooting 0-20 for the game, but I want the ball in his hands in crunch time. Dude's a killer.
  • Jimmer played some pretty good D in his stint tonight, he even had his first career block! He also tried that floater I've been wanting him to so badly take, but he missed it. Ah well, practice the hell out of it this summer Jimmer.
  • Speaking of blocks, Derrick Favors was filthy on that end tonight, absolutely crushing the Kings on the glass. He had 4 blocks in 21 minutes, to go with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He may never be a superstar, but he's going to be a very good player.
  • I kind of love Tyreke Evans off the bench as a Ginobili-type slasher/distributor/defender. He still gets plenty of minutes and makes plenty of impact. Not sure I love him off the bench when our Starting SF is John Salmons though. I expect he'll be back in the starting lineup soon, maybe as soon as Saturday.
  • Jamaal Tinsley still has game. 8 assists in 19 minutes. Great pickup for Utah, which was so desperately in need of a backup guard that could really distribute.
  • Terrence Williams is with the team but was on the inactive list. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't play at all during this 10-day contract and it's treated more as like a psychological evaluation, and then gets some game minutes on a second 10-day contract if the Kings like what they've seen in practice.

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