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It’s an enjoyable new tradition: on every February 28 during this decade (yes...both of them), the Sacramento Kings beat the Los Angeles Clippers. In 2010, it was by 97-92, while this time around, the final score was 105-99.
The event could well be called “Double Throwback Night,” or maybe “The Throwest Back Night Ever.” On one hand, it was Throwback Jersey Night, as the Kings wore uniforms honoring their previous incarnation as the Royals (Rochester Royals, and then Cincinnati
Royals). More important to the outcome of the game, if not the fate of the franchise itself, it also became Throwback Fan Night. Arco Arena was filled to the brim, just like in the old days, when loving fans packed the stands regardless of whether or not the Kings were playoff-bound.
Fans were amped even before entering. Impromptu rallies erupted outside. Once inside, people were treated to intense pre-game entertainment and promotions. A thick cloud of emotion enveloped the venue as this was to be the very last game at Arco Arena. Fans, staff and players all thought that the arena would become the Power Balance Pavilion on the following day. As it turned out, Power Balance has put a hold on their contract and is waiting until the Kings' future is more defined. Which brings us to the more poignant reason for the heavy emotion: the city might soon lose its team.
For readers living under a rock, the Maloof family, which owns majority interest in the Kings, have run out of patience waiting for an arena worthy of NBA standards. They are in negotiations to move the franchise to Anaheim. With Kings fans wanting to convince the Maloofs to stay, more than 17,300 of them packed the arena to send (scream) a clear message.
In front of a gaggle of Maloofs, all mayors who have ever starred in the NBA, and a sellout crowd, the Kings did not disappoint. The game was close and exciting from tip off to the final buzzer.
The Clippers might have entered with some confidence, since they were shooting for a season sweep of the Kings (having already beaten our local boys three times). Furthermore, the Kings are in trouble. Their leading scorer (Tyreke Evans) is injured, a roster shake-up is forcing them to integrate several new players, and their uncertain future in Sacramento is a major distraction.
On the other hand, the Clippers were also depleted. Eric Gordon, who torched the Kings for 28, 29, and 31 points during the three previous games, was out with an injured wrist. To make matters worse, the Clippers are coming off a brutal 11-game road trip, and were riding a four-game losing streak, having dropped eight of their last nine.
The game opened with a flourish. Samuel Dalembert tapped the ball to Beno Udrih, who fed Omri Casspi, who dropped a long bomb. Fifteen seconds into the game, the Kings were up 3-0. The game was close throughout, with the lead swaying gently from side to side, no team ever down by double digits.
Play featured spectacular drives by Udrih, and vicious dunks by soon-to-be-annointed Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin. DeMarcus Cousins seemed to have hit the rookie wall, as his recent play has slipped significantly. Against the Clippers, he had four unforced turnovers in his first 8:25 of play. Thanks to Cousins, the Kings only shot 68 percent from the foul line. Actually, the rest of the team shot a supurb 84 percent, but Cousins missed 7 of 10, and ended with only 5 points. Given Cousins’ abilities and learning curve, there is no reason to believe he will not soon smash through the rookie wall to fulfill his immense potential.
The Clippers stretched one lead to 9 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, but the Kings regained momentum. With 4:25 left in the game, the Kings led by 6 — and the momentum changed again. With just 49 seconds left, the Clippers trailed by a single point. Marcus Thornton then took over, scoring 6 of the last 7 points, and enabling the Kings to grab their eighth win at Arco and end a five-game home losing streak.
Frankly, it wasn’t the Kings alone who overcame a tense fourth quarter. The “Sixth Man” (the fans) were back. As Head Coach Westphal later observed, “It was loud....The fans were...really willing their team to win.....It makes a big difference.”
SOCIAL MEDIA DOES IT AGAIN
Fresh from tearing down dictatorships in Tunesia and Egypt, Facebook and Twitter combined forces again to sell out the arena. A full house packed Arco, armed with a pre-planned schedule of eight chants during the game. Also, outside Arco an hour before tip off, a crowd of painted fans carried signs and chanted “Here we stay! Not L.A.!” See facebook.com/herewestay and twitter@herewestay for more information about their continuing efforts. There are even “Here We Stay” T-shirts on sale to replace the now-too-embarrassing-to-wear “Here We Rise” T-shirts from earlier in the season.
Marcus Thornton holds the New Orleans Hornets’ franchise record for most points scored in a single quarter (23). In his hometown debut, he showed what an exciting and prolific scorer he can be for the Kings. It was Thornton who won this game for the Kings, leading the team in scoring...off the bench, no less. His coolly sinking 4 for 4 from the line in the closing 17 seconds of the game sealed the deal.
Thornton was raised in Louisiana, schooled in Louisiana (LSU), and signed in Louisiana (New Orleans Hornets). But, you can erase any worries over his adjustment to moving away. Asked if it will be difficult to relocate across the country and live away from home for the first time, he laughed “It’s not too hard. Actually, I feel like I’ve been in Louisiana a little too long.” He’s already found his favorite restaurant: Chipotle. And, Sacramento may have found its favorite sparkplug off the bench: 29 points in 27 minutes.
YOU GOTTA LOVE SAMMY
Kings players, listing their own favorite NBA stars, all gave predictable combinations of Kobe, Shaq, Magic, Wilt, Dr. J, etc. Except Samuel Dalembert. His favorite players are Leandro Barbosa and Eduardo Najera. Go figure.