by Michael Martinez
Photo by Steve Yeater/ AP Photo
SACRAMENTO – No Rudy Gay tonight, no problem. The Kings found a way to close out a game, even though they were up by 17 at one point. The team played well together, at least the starters did. The team shot poorly, but showed toughness and tenacity. With a half game lead over the Utah Jazz, the Kings looked to win a fourth straight over the Atlanta Hawks at Sleep Train Arena.
The first quarter was a back and forth contest but once again the Kings dominated the paint, helping them maintain a lead for most of the quarter. DeMarcus Cousins got off to a great start as he totaled 11 points and crashed the glass hard with eight rebounds. The Kings passed the ball well throughout the quarter by using the extra pass to find the best shot. Every starter scored in the quarter.
The Kings finished the quarter with nine assists, five of those assists coming from the smooth hands of Rajon Rondo. The team played much better defense as well causing four turnovers, but left Kyle Korver open on a couple occasions for two three point field goals. Willie Cauley-Stein’s presence was felt as he limited Paul Millsap to two points. Cauley-Stein’s tremendous athleticism has improved the team’s overall defense quite a bit. Sacramento totaled 16 boards to Atlanta’s six and finished the quarter ahead of the Hawks, 27-20.
In the second quarter, the Kings struggled mightily, shooting the ball at 30.4% and got off to a slow start. Luckily, the Hawks did not shoot that well either as both teams had very little offense. Cauley-Stein scored six in the quarter and finished with eight points in the quarter adding seven rebounds. Cousins finished the quarter with a double double, 13 points and 10 boards.
The Kings offense was disappointing in the quarter due to little ball movement. After doing a great job in the first, the ball stopped moving and the Kings players seemed to play a little too much one on one. As the Kings hit the glass hard, their dominance on the boards gave them nine second chance points in the first half. Boogie had a game high of 13 points in the half but nine turnovers helped the Hawks cut down the Kings lead to 3 at the half. Heading into the locker room, Sacramento led Atlanta 47-44. Millsap had a team high for the Hawks with nine points.
Out of the break, the Kings struck first but the Hawks answered quickly going up 50-49. The Kings then got some fire under their belts, going on a 18-0 run. The run started with a free throw by Boogie to tie up the game and the team kept going from there. Sacramento ran the court extremely well with nine fast break points.
The crowd went nuts when Ben McLemore hit a three pointer and took a bump, completing a four point play and putting up a 9-0 run. Casspi then hit a three pointer, followed by a Rondo lay up. The Hawks tried to end the run when Dennis Schröder had a fast break lay up, but DMC blocked him. The run was capped off with an awesome alley-oop pass from Rondo to McLemore that caused a thunderous roar throughout the arena.
The Hawks called a timeout and the Kings momentum dwindled. The Hawks ended the quarter on a 13-5 run after the time out, giving the Kings a 72-63 lead. The Kings ball movement was once again terrific, totaling seven team assists. Both teams still did not shoot well, the Hawks shot a miserable 35% in the quarter and the Kings defense helped them break out. The team caused seven turnovers for 14 of their 25 quarter points.
Up by nine to start the fourth quarter, the Kings needed a gritty, gutsy performance to hold on to the eight seed in the Western Conference. Sacramento did show guts, but the second unit allowed the Hawks to hang around and make the game really close. The second unit had little ball movement and the team shot an awful 25% for the quarter. The Hawks were able to kick off the quarter with a 10-2 run and Cousins stopped the bleeding with a lay up.
As the quarter moved along, Kent Bazemore tied the game up at 80 with a little under six minutes remaining, but Omri Casspi answered with a three pointer. The Kings ball movement faded once again. Korver hit a three pointer to take the lead down to 1, 86-85. With 41.3 seconds remaining, Cauley-Stein was fouled and made two big free throws to go up 88-85.
“Y’all’s guess is as good [as] mine” Cauley-Stein said when asked about the last time he made back to back free throws.
After the free throws, the Hawks got down the court and Schröder made a big shot beyond the arc to tie the game up at 88 with 28.5 seconds left. The Kings took a time out and it appeared that Coach George Karl drew up the perfect play. Rondo pushed the ball inside to Cous, who dumped it off and set a pick to give Rondo a wide open lay up for a 90-88 lead with 12.9 seconds to go. Out of Atlanta’s time out, Millsap lost the ball straight into Casspi’s hands who called a time out with 3.3 left.
Darren Collison got the ball in the back court from Rondo and was fouled with 1.9 left. Collison missed the first free throw, but made the second. Atlanta took another time out and on the in bound pass it appeared Cauley-Stein tipped the ball to cause another turn over to end the game. Cauley-Stein’s length and defense helped end the game and all those turn overs caught up to the Hawks. The Kings won, 91-88, and heard loud cheers from the fans who brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy. The crowd played a huge role in helping the Kings pull through and close out an important game.
19 turnovers and a 35.4 shooting percentage should have resulted in a loss for the Kings, but they showed heart and found a way to pull through. Cauley-Stein finished with his second consecutive and career double double, 12 points and 11 boards. Cousins totaled 24 points and 15 rebounds for a ninth game in a row.
“Just playing hard,” Cauley-Stein said when asked about his second double double.
WCS also preached about playing for his teammates giving him the motivation to play at such a high level and with such intensity.
Rondo notched his fifth triple double on the season with 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Rondo tied Chris Webber for the most triple doubles in a season by a Kings player in the Sacramento era and we are not even at the All Star break.
“Man, he got the triple double because of me,” Cousins said with a laugh.
“The impact he has on games is incredible, I’m glad I can go to war with him” Boogie said.
Without one of their big three, Rondo and Cousins pulled out all the stops and meshed well together. Cauley-Stein was also a huge factor and McLemore stepped up to finish with 14 points. The Kings hit the glass hard and played big over a small Atlanta team with 56 rebounds to Atlanta’s 42. The Hawks only led by two at the beginning of the game and Sacramento proved why they deserve to be in the playoff hunt. The Kings now hold a game lead over the Jazz for the eighth seed and are two back of the Houston Rockets for the seventh spot.
This Saturday, the Kings will take on the Indiana Pacers and All Star starter Paul George at home to go for a fifth straight win.