by Michael Martinez
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Image
SACRAMENTO- Heading into Thursday night’s game the Sacramento Kings were 2 games back behind their opponent, the Utah Jazz. Sacramento, 5-12 on the road, looked to come back from a bad loss the night before against the Pelicans. The Kings found a way to hold their opponent to a low shooting percentage, at least for three quarters, with tough perimeter defense while getting the ball inside to DeMarcus Cousins who had a tremendous game. The Kings shot the ball well and were able to just hold on to pick up the win against the Jazz, 103-101, at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
As the game got underway the Kings looked like the better team all the way. The team’s defense was tremendous and Utah could not make any shots. Willie Cauley-Stein got off to a great start putting up six quick points while playing tremendous defense. Cauley-Stein’s quickness as a big man has benefitted the Kings and his hustle does not go unnoticed.
Cousins did not do a ton of scoring in the first quarter, six points, but did a good job of moving the ball around for his teammates while picking up eight early rebounds. The Kings shot the ball well, while holding the Jazz to a 16.7% shooting percentage. The Kings did a great job of continuing their run as Utah went about eight minutes without a field goal. Gordon Hayward bricked a lot of shots and found a couple buckets at the charity stripe. Sacramento held the Jazz to 12 points, the lowest of any Kings’ opponent this season, giving them a 1st quarter lead 26-12.
The Jazz looked to have a better second quarter, but the Kings held them in check again. In full, Utah went nine minutes and 19 seconds without a field goal before Trevor Booker got a put back dunk for a field goal. After struggling all season with perimeter defense, the Kings were much improved in the first half, although there were a lot of fouls, 17 in the first two quarters for the Kings. The quarter consisted of a lot of free throws, 12-18 for Sacramento, and 9-13 for the Jazz.
Boogie came out stronger in the second quarter, totaling 18 points and 13 rebounds in the half, his sixth consecutive double-double. With DMC’s scoring ability the Kings were able to hang on to the lead although the Jazz outscored them 33-30 after shooting the ball much better. Trey Lyles and Raul Neto totaled 10 points for a team high as the Kings held the lead 56-45 heading into the locker room on 54.3% shooting. Utah shot 1/16 from 3 point range, much improved for Sacramento’s perimeter defense. The Kings scored a field goal with 1.6 seconds on the clock as Rajon Rondo passed the ball all the way up court to Darren Collison who missed the lay-up but Boogie cleaned it up with a dunk as the red lights lit up the backboard.
After the half time break, Hayward finally made a field goal after going 0-9. Cousins answered right back with his tremendous scoring ability. Rondo kept showing off his vision and passing ability with a pass on a very tight window to Rudy Gay for an alley-oop. Cousins continued his scoring ability with his first three pointer in the ball game in the third quarter. And Rondo once again got Gay the ball for another alley-oop later in the quarter. Both teams shot well and both Gay and Cousins showed off their scoring abilities. Gay scored eight in the quarter while Cousins scored 10, both shooting 3-5 from the field. The Kings got to the line 10 times and converted eight free throws. Hayward had a much better quarter, scoring nine points on 3-6 shooting.
Cousins produced the game high in three quarters with 28 points and Gay had 16 for the second highest point total. The Kings shot the ball well once again with a 54% percentage through three quarters, which is something they have done well all season. Through three quarters the Kings totaled 42 points in the paint and got the ball inside to Boogie a lot. Boogie has scored 15.7 points in the paint per game in the month of January as the Kings continue to dominate their opponents close to the rim. Their dominance allowed them to hang on to the lead although Hayward hit a buzzer beater heading into the fourth. Sacramento led the Jazz 82-71 with 12 minutes remaining.
To open up the final quarter, Omri Casspi knocked down a three pointer, something he has done well all season. Down 85-71 the Jazz found a rhythm and went on a 9-0 run in a minute and 50 seconds. The run consisted of a Casspi foul and technical, which gave Utah three easy points as Trey Burke connected on the free throw. Cauley-Stein stopped the bleeding with a put back dunk, but Utah kept hanging around. Gay struggled from three but Cousins was able to hit a big 3 pointer of his own to put the Kings back up by 10. Utah maintained a way to stick around with the Kings who could not find a way to put the Jazz out.
With two minutes and 55 seconds left the Kings held a six point lead over the Jazz and Cauley-Stein helped maintain that lead with a big rejection, showing off his athletic ability. But Gay fouled Rodney Hood behind the arc, which led to three shots from the charity stripe. Hood connected on all three cutting the lead to five. The Kings started to struggle and went three minutes and 16 seconds without a make but Cousins then proceeded to score. Rondo fouled Burke, which set up a three point play as the Jazz kept scrapping.
As time wound down, Hood hit a second chance three pointer to cut the lead to five one again. With 33 seconds left, Gay got to the foul line and made one of the two free throws. In just under four seconds, Hayward took the ball down the court, got fouled and made a circus shot to get the and one. Hayward made the bucket and forced the Kings to called a timeout, up 101-98 with 29.2 seconds remaining.
Out of the time out, Rondo took the shot and missed it, as the Jazz gained possession with 8.5 seconds remaining. Utah’s Joe Ingles took the three point shot and made it to tie the game at 101. Sacramento took a 20 second time out with 4.8 seconds remaining and drew up a play for Gay who scored well all night. Gay got the ball and hit a mid-range jumped that was good with 0.6 seconds left. Utah heaved up a miracle shot that had no chance and the Kings picked up a rare victory on back to back games especially on the road. The final score, 103-101, as the Kings just barely pulled out a W.
Amongst rumors of a proposed trade for Pelican’s forward, Ryan Anderson, Gay played an awesome game. Number eight finished the night with 24 points, 9-17 from the field, adding nine rebounds and three steals while knocking down the game winner.
DMC was once again unstoppable, finished with 36 points, 10-21 shooting, and adding 14 free throws on 21 attempts. Boogie also added 17 boards. Cousins has led the NBA in points in the month of January with 32.3 points per game. Cousins showed off his scoring ability once again with his inside dominance as Utah had no big man to cover him with Derrick Favors out. And Rondo continued to dish the ball out adding 13 assists, while adding 6 points and 6 rebounds.
Overall, Sacramento got careless with the ball, 16 turnovers but still shot well. Their defense looked good for three quarters but really let up towards the end although they were much improved. The team also dominated the rebounding category, 54-38. Cauley-Stein was a great spark for the Kings who looked better tonight as they continued to chase the Jazz for the eight seed.
On Saturday, the Kings will take on the Clippers in Los Angeles and will need Cousins to continue his hot start in the new year. The whole Kings crew is going to have to come together as the team is finally healthy and looks to beat a team in their conference and division. The Kings have struggled against really good teams so Saturday night will be a big test.