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Going into Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns had every reason to be confident. One of only five teams to have a better record on the road than at home, they had won three of their last four games, including two straight road games. Moreover, they had beaten the Kings in 17 of their last 22 encounters.
Having just stunned the "Best in the West" Oklahoma City Thunder, the Kings also had every reason to be confident. Sporting a 7 - 4 record at Power Balance Pavilion, they had won four of their last five games, while the three losses in the past seven games were by a combined total of a mere 8 points. Moreover, they had beaten the Suns in their most recent three meetings.
Phoenix left town with their confidence intact. Sacramento heads to Chicago with their confidence shaken. They next meet the Bulls, who are riding a five game winning streak, are 9 -1 at home, and own the best record in the NBA.
The Kings trailed the entire game, eventually losing 94 - 84. For Phoenix, who led 31 - 24 after the first quarter, the second quarter was crucial. Not only do the Suns rank 25th in the NBA in second quarter scoring, but they failed to score 20 points three times in the last week alone. The bad news for the Suns was that they scored just 22 points (their average) again. The bad news for the Kings was that they only managed 20. The Goon Squad just didn’t have it.
The Suns, who were 9 - 1 when they won the second quarter, were never threatened. By the end of the third quarter, the Kings trailed by 15 and any hopes of a 4th quarter comeback were dashed by registering 7 of their 16 turnovers in that final period.
DeMarcus Cousins was a bright spot for local fans, ending with 26 points and 9 rebounds. After taking only one shot in the first quarter, Marcus Thornton picked up his game and ended with 21. In contrast, Jason Thompson, whose strong play propelled him into the starting lineup, scored only 2 points. Meanwhile, John Salmons committed his second foul with 3:38 still left in the first quarter. Coach Keith Smart elected to keep him in the game, but Salmons was hit with his third foul just 35 seconds later. He left the game with 4 points, and never scored again. Tyreke Evans, who had averaged 21.4 points in the last 7 games, also finished with 4.
Coach Smart’s game plan was to make Steve Nash, the Suns All-Star point guard (for the 8th time!) work on defense. Defense is his weakest area and Smart’s hope was to tire out the 38-year old Nash. Coach Smart readily admitted that it didn’t work out that way. When the Kings drove the ball into the paint, the Suns made adjustments, ultimately blocking 11 shots (to the Kings’ 3). Nash ended with 15 assists (a mere one assist fewer than the entire Kings team). Even more embarrassing, the Kings used the entire game to gather their 16 assists, while Nash sat out the whole second quarter. Nash split his lower lip colliding with Isaiah Thomas, got stitched up, but played only 29 total minutes.
Speaking of Isaiah...
Isaiah Thomas, usually a spark plug for the reserves, had an off game. He sank only 2 of 9 shots, dished but 1 assist, yet did grab 6 rebounds. Nevertheless, he has become one of the Kings most popular players and received a huge ovation from the 16,964 fans. (The Kings have already matched last year’s total number of games that drew 16,000+ fans.)
A genuinely modest, sincere, and likable man, Thomas spoke about home and family with me. Sacramento is a bit larger than his hometown of Tacoma, while our greater metropolitan area is a bit smaller than his Seattle region. He likes that it’s a “low key city” with "not too much going on." (You can often find him at Jack’s Urban Eats.) And, he adds, the climate here is nicer.
Kings fans have no doubt noticed the ethereal portrait on Thomas’s left shoulder. The large tattoo is a likeness of his grandfather, who was close and supportive of Isaiah when he was growing up. Indeed, though he passed when Isaiah was in high school, his grandfather remains a strong influence in the point guard’s life.
16,000 Dirty Minds?
During one time out, the Kings entertained the crowd with a video of Donté Greene and Jimmer Fredette playing Password. If they team up on the court as well as they teamed up in Password, the Kings will make the playoffs. Greene got every one of Jimmer’s clues. Still, the highlight was Jimmer’s hint: “When you really like someone and really care about them, you BLANK them.” For some reason, 16,000 people burst out laughing. (The correct word — which Donté eventually identified, by the way — was LOVE.)
Note: Special thanks to Ron Nabity (http://nabityphotos.com/) for the photographs!