On paper, this was just another loss for the Sacramento Kings. The Indiana Pacers, holders of the NBA's best record, came in and beat a lesser team. That's what was supposed to happen, and that's what did happen.
But man, nobody remembered to tell the Sacramento Kings that. The Kings had a legitimate chance to win this game, and probably should have, had Paul George not gotten a favorable whistle and made a huge three pointer with 18 seconds left that tied the game.
I could sit here and talk about that whistle and that play, but instead I'm going to focus on the positives, because the Sacramento Kings should not have even been in that position to win in the first place. Let's take a look at all the obstacles that the Kings were facing:
- They had to play Indiana, the team with the best record in the NBA and the best defense in the NBA.
- They had to play an Indiana team looking to get back on track after a 24 point loss to the Suns.
- They had to play a fully healthy Indiana team that desperately wants homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
- They had to play without DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, their two best players.
Those are not favorable odds. In fact, I initially refused an offer from my father to come to the game with him because I expected us to get blown out. In my game preview, I almost just wrote "Kings. Aren't. Winning" in the 3 Things to look out for. I was convinced that Sacramento had no chance against this Pacers team.
I was wrong.
The Kings came out with fire and energy, and gave one of the grittiest performances that I've had the good fortune of seeing live. Did the Kings make mistakes? Yeah, sure they did. But this was not a game that I expected the Kings to win, and I'd rather focus on the positives that came out of last night's performance.
Marcus Thornton, who I've ragged on time and time again this season as he's suffered the worst shooting slump of his career, ended up playing one of the best games of his career. In Cousins and Gay's absence, he stepped up in a way that nobody except perhaps himself saw. Thornton tied his career-high with 42 points, hitting 7 of 15 threes along the way. He scored 22 points in the first quarter alone, and was a big part in pushing the Kings to a 17 point lead. Thornton played tough defensively as well, doing his best to stay in front of Lance Stephenson and not give him too many easy looks. Stephenson still scored 24 points, but he had to work hard for them.
Isaiah Thomas got off to a slow start himself, deferring to the Bayou Bomber early, but eventually he got going himself and he also tied his career-high with 38 points. Thomas thoroughly outplayed George Hill and C.J. Watson, and even had a good look at the end to possibly win the game that was short. Thomas' play was phenomenal considering you knew Indiana was going to focus their attention on him early.
Jimmer Fredette and Travis Outlaw came in and provided a nice spark in their limited minutes, actually managing to extend Sacramento's lead when they were on the court, not an easy task given Indiana's depth.
Sacramento's big man brigade of Jason Thompson, Aaron Gray, Carl Landry, Quincy Acy and even Derrick Williams did a great job of playing Indiana's big men tough and not giving up anything easy. None of them could buy a bucket (combined 5-29 from the field) but they kept the Kings in the game regardless with timely rebounds (Landry, Thompson and Williams all finished with at least 9 boards) and playing physical. David West was the only Pacer big who scored efficiently as Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi combined for just 6-22 from the field. The fouls added up (Landry was the only one without at least 5 fouls) but they never stopped fighting.
And that's all we can really ask for, is that this team never stop fighting. That's what this city and this fanbase is all about. If these guys are willing and able to fight like this every night on both ends of the court, the wins will come.
The Kings may have lost this game, but I'm proud to be able to call myself a Sacramento Kings fan after that performance.