Mar 4, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Marcus Thornton (23) goes in for a lay-up during the first quarter as Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat (4) trails at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
The Sacramento Kings were up by the three points on the Denver Nuggets with 7 seconds left in the game. The Kings held strong on defense, forcing Arron Afflalo to take a tough, well-covered three for the tie. But Marcus Thornton held a little too strong, covered Afflalo a little too well, and got whistled for the foul, his sixth. With 0.6 seconds on the clock, Afflalo sank three free throws to send the game to overtime.
The Kings couldn't get a similar prayer answered in overtime. Ty Lawson hit a monster three to give Denver a 119-116 lead with four seconds left -- it was the sort of shot that can break a man's resolve. On the other end, the Kings ran a nice play in which Francisco Garcia, the inbounder, got the ball back on a DeMarcus Cousins pass for a corner three. But Garcia double-clutched and went front rim to end the game.
Every Kings hero was also a goat, except for the guy whose been a goat all season. Thornton scored an efficient 27 points, including a big three down the stretch (he was 6-9 from distance for the game), but made the mistake that cost the Kings the game. Tyreke Evans also scored 27, but struggled to run the offense when Keith Smart needed him to in overtime. (The Kings took a 114-110 lead in OT after some Evans' dribble-drive action, but Sacramento's just completely ground to a halt at that point, with Evans creating a play with five seconds left on the shot clock.)
Evans also gave up the game-winning three to Lawson by playing for the drive. With the shot clock winding down, Lawson broke off the play -- a high screen -- to fire up the jumper, and Evans was flat on his feet the whole time. Evans was good overall, and pretty close to unstoppable off of the bounce. But he continues to struggle to make sure he's moving the ball if penetration isn't available. He did correct the problem on two late plays, but those resulted in missed jumpers by Salmons and Evans himself.
Salmons -- the aforementioned season-long goat -- was unnervingly good. He scored 14 points on 5-8 shooting, and played point guard primarily. He finished with five assists to show for his work, and seemed forced to do something, which was a nice change from his existence as a starter this season. So that's where we are now: the opening night starting point guard is the starting small forward, and the opening night starting small forward is the backup point guard. Basketball is weird. The Kings are weird.
Isaiah Thomas struggled with his shot (2-8), and Jimmer Fredette earned almost as many minutes as Zeke (23 vs. 17). Hassan Whiteside was FREED, with 14 minutes (!). His previous career high was 4 minutes. Dude was productive, too, with five points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal (and two turnovers and of course a foul and 2-5 shooting but who cares it's Hassan Whiteside, guys!).
DeMarcus Cousins was totally held in check -- five points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks in just 23 minutes in an overtime game. That one isn't going on his highlight reel. Led by Cousins and Salmons, five Kings had at least four assists, which is very unlike the Kings we know and love. The defense gave up huge nights to Afflalo (32 points) and Kenneth Faried (20 points, an absolute monster on the glass late), but only conceded 46 points in the paint, a far cry from the 92 scored by Denver in a previous meeting between the teams.
This was a very strong, aggressive performance by a tired team in difficult circumstances. For their performance, the Kings deserve applause. But this season, there is never no lament, never a game in which heavy sighs and palm-smacked foreheads would be inappropriate. That's just the way it is.