The Kings have lost several games this year, and a couple just in the past couple of weeks that they definitely should have won but ended up losing. Well, this was the opposite.
The Hornets were an injury-depleted team, missing guys like Eric Gordon, Carl Landry, Gustavo Ayon and Emeka Okafor but as the saying goes, a wounded animal is the most dangerous. The Hornets came into Sacramento and played a very scrappy game, attacking the paint at every opportunity. They ended up shooting 54.5% from the field, and had 62 points in the paint. They also dominated the battle of the boards, beating the Kings 41 to 29 in that category.
A big reason the Kings lost the rebounding battle so badly was the fact that they were missing a big presence in the middle themselves; DeMarcus Cousins missed his first game due to injury/sickness as he came down with food poisoning. That put Chuck Hayes in the starting lineup, and with J.J. Hickson still out with a sore hip, that meant the super raw Hassan Whiteside and wings Travis Outlaw & Donté Greene had to step up and fill the void.
The Hornets had especially strong performances by Jarrett Jack, who scored 25 points on 11-17 from the field. Isaiah Thomas abused him in the first few minutes, scoring a quick 7 points on him, but Jack returned the favor in kind. Also playing well for the Hornets was big man Chris Kaman, who nearly had a triple-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists, but he did have to play nearly the entire game due to New Orleans' dearth of size.
Sacramento was led in scoring once again by Marcus Thornton, who had a big second half. Thornton finished with 25 points and 4 steals, and hit a couple big shots down the stretch to keep the Kings in the game. Five other Kings finished in double digit scoring in a very balanced effort by all involved.
The game came down to the final seconds, when Isaiah Thomas came up with a huge steal on an inbounds pass from Trevor Ariza to Marco Belinelli, and then dished to a driving John Salmons who converted the layup with 6 seconds left. On the opposite end, Tyreke Evans did a great job of defending Trevor Ariza, who missed a fallaway jumper at the buzzer, giving the Kings the win.
I know a lot of fans are probably wondering why Isaiah Thomas only played around 17 minutes and only the final minute of the fourth quarter. Jarrett Jack's presence was the biggest reason. Isaiah is a tough, pesky defender, but against big guards like Jack that can drive and shoot, he's going to have problems. If you'll remember, he had problems in Detroit against a similar guard in Rodney Stuckey as well.
The other reason was that Jimmer Fredette had a very good game off the bench. Jimmer seemed to be more confident in himself and made several good decisions, particularly in attacking the basket. He finished with 11 points, 5 assists (to no turnovers) and a big steal in 28 minutes of action.
John Salmons also had a very good game. Not only did he score 12 points on 9 shots, including the game winning layup, but he played solid defense as well, particularly on Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli in the second half.
Chuck Hayes got the start for the sick DeMarcus Cousins and was kind of a mixed bag. Chris Kaman is still one of the best scoring centers in the league, and he really took advantage of his height against Hayes to get inside and do some damage early. Kaman also was able to get a couple rebounds on the offensive glasses simply by being taller than Hayes. Jason Thompson didn't fare that much better against Kaman himself, although Thompson was better on the boards, and did a good job of attacking the basket and getting to the line.
As mentioned earlier, Hassan Whiteside again saw meaningful minutes and he looked like the extremely raw player that he is. He was a bit lost in the team's defensive schemes, but did have one nice block. On offense he hit both of his shots, both interior post-up shots against Chris Kaman, which was nice to see. My biggest concern with Hassan was his energy level (he needed to be much more active) and his rebounding. Hassan grabbed just one rebound in his 8 minutes, even though he got his hands on the ball a few more times. The biggest factor there is that Hassan does an extremely poor job of boxing out, instead relying on his height and wingspan, something that probably worked out for him growing up but won't cut it in the NBA.
Tyreke Evans had both good and bad moments. Most of his 13 points came in the first half, when it seemed as if he could get to the rim at will. He also hit a wide open spot-up three, which are the only threes I ever want him taking at this point since he's been a terrible shooter off-the-dribble. Evans had 4 turnovers, 3 in the third quarter that saw the momentum begin to shift New Orleans way. Defensively, Evans was on Trevor Ariza most of the night, and did a pretty good job on Ariza when he forced him to shoot jumpers, but a poor one when Ariza chose to drive.
Marcus Thornton was solid throughout the game. In the third quarter, he was keeping the Kings in the game with his aggressive attack mentality and he continued that in the 4th when he hit several big shots down the stretch and almost hit a game-winner himself.
The 4th quarter was a very tight back and forth affair. New Orleans had the two point lead after a very sloppy third quarter by Sacramento in which they turned the ball over 8 times (compared to 13 for the ball game). The Kings took the lead back a few minutes into the quarter on a Jimmer Fredette three, but it was a short lead as Chris Kaman answered right back.
After Jason Thompson hit both of his free throws on the other end to give the lead back to the Kings, Jarrett Jack nailed a three point to put New Orleans back up by two. Donté Greene hit a three of his own, but got cocky and tried to do it again the very next time he got the ball. Just because you hit one three, doesn't entitle you to a heat check Donté.
Later on in the quarter, the Kings found themselves down three points with about a minute and a half left. Marcus Thornton had the ball in his hands and drilled a three pointer from the top of the circle to tie the game. That got the crowd energized and back on its feet. The Hornets came down and Jarrett Jack found Ariza open in the corner for three, and at first everyone though he missed it, as the ball rimmed in and out, but on the way back out it bounced off the backboard and back in. It was a very lucky bounce, but it gave New Orleans a three point lead with just about a minute left.
The Kings had a bit of trouble getting into their offense on the next possession, and were lucky to have Belinelli kick the ball, resetting the shot clock and allowing Isaiah Thomas to come in. The Kings still had trouble with their offense and ended up settling for a three point attempt by Evans, which rimmed out but who was there for the offensive rebound and putback but Marcus Thornton.
Sacramento then stepped up their defense, forcing New Orleans to continually pass in search of an opening. They finally found one down low in Chris Kaman, but by the time Kaman got the ball and put up the shot, the shot clock had expired, the third such violation for New Orleans in the game. With 19 seconds left, the Kings had plenty of time to try to take the lead.
The play that ensued was pretty simple, but the Kings got a good shot out of it. Marcus Thornton got the ball at the top of the key and attacked the basket, missing a short floater. There was probably a little contact, but it wasn't called, and now it was the Hornets turn to try to seal the victory. The Kings had a foul to give and used it very quickly. On the second inbound attempt, Ariza tried to get it to a good free throw shooter in Belinelli, who was streaking to the backcourt with the smaller Thomas on him. Ariza lobbed it a bit softer than he should have, Isaiah got a hand on it, and managed to get possession. John Salmons did a great job of streaking up the court, and Isaiah found him at the basket, where Salmons hit the layup and eventual game-winner.
There was still 6 seconds left that the Kings had to play some defense though, and I know the thought was going through so many Kings fans heads: "Don't Foul, Don't Foul, Don't Foul, Seriously, Don't Foul". The Kings have already lost two games this season because of last second fouls, and this could have been another one. The Hornets seemed to know that as well, as Ariza tried several times to try to get Tyreke Evans to bite on a fake, but Evans didn't fall for it and stayed grounded. Ariza was forced to shoot the tough fadeaway jumper, and it was short.
It was a tougher victory than I expected, but a win's a win, and it was a great way to kick off the 9 game home stand. The Kings play next on Friday against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, looking to avenge a humiliating defeat earlier in the season.