Last week, the Utah Jazz beat the Kings 103 to 102 after Al Jefferson's tip-in with 0.9 seconds left. This kicked off a four-game losing streak for Sacramento, only to have it end here in Utah with DeMarcus Cousins hitting a free throw with 3.8 seconds left to win it for the Kings. Cue "It's a Circle of Life".
This was one of the more physical and chippy games I've seen in recent memory. DeMarcus Cousins and Devin Harris' beef is well documented, and the Jazz have continued to carry Jerry Sloan's legacy of playing physical under Tyrone Corbin. There were 56 fouls called on both sides, three technical fouls (all on the Kings) and 84 combined Free Throw attempts. Utah alone had 52 attempts (and made 38) as the Kings employed a "Hack-a-everybody" strategy, getting into the penalty very early in quarters. Five Jazz players had at least 8 attempts at the line, and another had 6.
The Kings on the other hand managed to go just 22 of 32 from the line, giving up 16 points to Utah at the charity stripe alone. DeMarcus Cousins led the team and game with 10 attempts, but hit just 5 of them. Fortunately, one of those makes would end up being the game-winner. Cousins had another monstrous performance in a sophomore season filled with them. His 27 points (11-22 from the field), 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks marked his 30th double-double of the year, with only Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Kevin Love having more.
Cousins had help from Marcus Thornton (26 points, 6 rebounds) and Isaiah Thomas (19 points on just 8 shots, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) and those three carried the offensive load for the Kings. Sacramento was without John Salmons for the second game in a row but also Tyreke Evans, who sat out with back spasms. Tyreke's absence was huge, as he has played no team better through his career than the Jazz.
For Utah, Al Jefferson carried the load, matching Cousins point-for-point and even outrebounding him (he had 16 boards). Four other Jazz scored in double figures, led by Gordon Hayward's 19 points. Hayward was the go-to guy for Utah's attempt at a game-winner, driving the ball to the hoop but unable to convert at the basket thanks to some good defense by the Kings. Utah attempted to tip-in his miss twice, and while the second one went in, it was clearly after the game clock had expired.
This was a very unusual win for the Kings. They did it despite not playing quite as well as they had been. They had just 16 assists for the game, a total that would have been more common in the earlier part of the season. They were also annihilated on the boards, allowing the Jazz to grab 62 to their 48, and 27 of Utah's boards were offensive. Derrick Favors in particular was a monster on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds (9 offensive) in 22 minutes. In a statistical oddity, Favors also scored 6 points while going 0-13 from the field.
A large part of the rebounding trouble for Sacramento occurred when both DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson were out of the game. Chuck Hayes is a capable rebounder, but not when he is the sole big man on the floor and up against the likes of the Jazz's tall frontline. Jason Thompson had his worst game in weeks, scoring just 4 points (on 0-5 from the field) in 26 minutes, but he did have 9 rebounds during that time. Donté Greene played almost solely backup PF minutes, and he had just 3 rebounds in his 16 minutes, 2 of which were offensive. He simply does not have the strength or rebounding knack to box out physical bigs like Paul Millsap or Derrick Favors.
With DeMarcus out of the game thanks to a cut above his eye, I was exceedingly surprised to see Keith Smart not return to Jason Thompson as the Kings were getting killed on the boards, instead opting for Hassan Whiteside. And indeed, Whiteside showed little in his 3 minutes of play aside from a spectacular block. He pulled down just 1 rebound while getting two fouls to go with his block.
Another curious decision by the Kings was to start Travis Outlaw in the place of the injured Tyreke Evans/John Salmons. Outlaw had played all of 7 minutes in the last 10 days and hasn't been particularly good all year. He only ended up playing 14 minutes, and while he struggled again offensively, I do have to say that he did play some rather good defense, both on his man (usually C.J. Miles, who was 0-4 and didn't score at all) and on the help side, where he had a couple of blocks.
Terrence Williams had another very good game as a Sacramento King with perhaps his most complete performance to date. In 22 minutes off of the bench, Williams scored 8 points (6 in the 4th quarter), grabbed 6 rebounds, dished 4 assists (to just 1 turnover), and added a steal and a block. There were a couple of times where I thought he forced it, usually on jumpers, but he looks to be a very solid addition to this team. His court vision and athleticism are very good, and more importantly, he's a willing passer. He does a good job defensively as well, and he was a big part in making Hayward's final drive so tough. According to the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones, Williams has already signed the paperwork to remain with the Kings for the rest of the season, and I take that as good news, especially if he keeps playing like this.
Jimmer Fredette saw a good bit of playing time in front of the Utah faithful, 16 minutes in total, but didn't have nearly the type of performance some of his fans that came to the game probably wanted to see. Jimmer scored just 4 points on 6 shots and had no assists to 1 turnover. A lot of that had to do with the hounding defense of Earl Watson, who would not give Jimmer any space whatsoever. Jimmer eventually moved to the off-guard position allowing Terrence Williams to play the Point Forward role.
This game was about as close as they came through three quarters, with the Kings strong start answered by the Jazz after Cousins first went to the bench. Utah looked to break it open late in the 4th quarter though. After Marcus Thornton hit a three pointer to make it 92-91 with about 5 minutes left, rookie Alec Burks answered with his own three pointer as the shot clock winded down. It was a tough shot, and to his credit Burks hit it. Burks had a good game, finishing with 15 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 34 minutes.
On the other end, DeMarcus Cousins lost the ball and the Jazz quickly broke out, getting it to a streaking Gordon Hayward, who nailed the short shot and got fouled as well, putting Utah up 97-91 with the chance to go up by 7 with 4 minutes left. Hayward missed the free throw though, and Terrence Williams came to the Kings rescue. Williams took it to the rim and got fouled, making both free throws. After Al Jefferson missed a shot for Utah, the Kings fed DeMarcus Cousins, who missed his own shot in the paint, but Williams got the offensive rebound and putback, cutting the lead back to two points.
The next three minutes were largely constituted of both teams shooting free throws. Isaiah Thomas made 1 of 2 (he had 9 attempts on the night), Jason Thompson made both of his attempts (after being led to the basket on a beautiful pass by Terrence Williams) and Alec Burks made two of his own to make it 101-98 Jazz with 2:41 left.
DeMarcus Cousins got the ball back and faced up on Al Jefferson. Cousins drove to the basket, fought through the contact, and got the ball in the hoop for the And-1, which he also hit to tie the game.
Al Jefferson tried to do the same thing to DeMarcus but slipped on the floor and fell. The refs called the foul on DeMarcus anyway, because DeMarcus (no typo here). Jefferson proved the old adage "Ball Don't Lie" true by missing both free throws, but the Kings couldn't convert on the other end and Jefferson tipped in Earl Watson's miss to give the Jazz the lead back.
Marcus Thornton proceeded to take an absolutely terrible shot for the Kings, a falling away, contested long two pointer (or Mitch Richmond three) with plenty of time left on the clock. It missed, but fortunately so did Al Jefferson's jumper on the other end. Isaiah Thomas took it the other end and got the foul call on Earl Watson and sunk both free throws to tie it back up again. Chuck Hayes and Francisco Garcia tried to get in for defensive substitutions after the first free throw, but failed to get to the table in time. Considering what happened next that may have been a good thing.
Sacramento's man-to-man defense played the Jazz tight, and with 15 seconds left, Alec Burks lost the ball out of bounds. It would prove to be a crucial error. The Kings called time-out to diagram a play and ended up doing something they have done far too little of the past two years: get the ball to DeMarcus Cousins in crunch time.
Cousins received the ball in the high post and with his back to the basket turned into the paint to begin a drive. Earl Watson came to help and reached across DeMarcus' body to get a hand on the ball. He was called for the foul with 3.8 seconds left instead of the jump ball, and I'll admit it looked close to me.
DeMarcus' first free throw was well short, just hitting the front rim. The second was good though, and that ended up being the ball game as Hayward's drive on the other end failed. It was an ugly, sloppy win, but a win's a win no matter how you get it. It's just the 5th road win for the Kings this year and it couldn't have come at a worse time for the Jazz, who are in a fight with two other teams for the last two playoff spots in the West.
The Kings don't get much rest to relish their victory, having to come back home tonight to get ready for the visiting New Jersey Nets. It will be the first and only time the Kings and Nets match up this season.
- Donté Greene has learned a thing or two from Chuck Hayes on defending the post, most notably the slap down of the ball as a player turns into their shot. I've seen him do that more and more often.
- For someone who talks a lot of smack about how good a shooter they are, you'd think Cisco would hit more of his wide-open threes.
- Is it just me or does it seem like Isaiah can get to the line whenever he wants?
- The Kings had 10 blocks to 7 for Utah but it felt like Utah had a lot more, probably because of one sequence where DeMarcus got his shot sent back a few times in a row.
- DeMarcus got a technical for telling the ref to "Look at my face" after Hayward wasn't called for an offensive foul after his off-arm clobbered DeMarcus in the face, cutting his upper eye enough that it needed stitches.
- Terrence Williams to Donté Greene alley-oops need to become a thing.
- If Travis Outlaw could consistently hit any shot whatsoever, he might actually be a nice player. And up until last year in New Jersey, he could.
- Don't save the ball towards your own basket ever, Jimmer.
- I don't think I've ever seen someone grab so many rebounds with one hand as DeMarcus has.