DeMarcus Cousins sat in front of his locker space exhausted, the effects of a long first season etched in his face and his left shoulder donned in black tape as if held on by Super Glue. At least he wasn’t bleeding this time.
After putting up 17 points, collecting nine rebounds, dealing out six assists and setting a personal high with five steals, it’s understandable why – nearing the end of his rookie campaign – Cousins could barely find the energy to speak to reporters after the game.
“Even though we are not having a great season and everyone knows we are not going to the playoffs, the fan support is unbelievable,” said a soft-spoken Cousins. “They stick with us through thick and thin and we love them for it.”
Cousins was right.
Considering that the long NBA season is coming to a close, combined with the uncertain future whereabouts of the only local major league sports team in the area, it was quite a surprise to see Power Balance Pavilion nearly packed and rocking like the good ole days.
Sunday afternoon, the fans never gave up and neither did the hometown Kings. Spurred on by the constant cheering and defense chants,
DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and the rest of boys in purple took an early lead and rarely looked back in an 106-97 win over the stumbling Utah Jazz.
Evans, who has been moving well and looking like his old self since coming back from the treatment on his foot, had a great night. He put
up a double-double with 24 points and 10 assists, consistently blowing by the Jazz defenders on his way to the rack.
But, for the second straight game, it was Francisco Garcia that was the fire starter. Garcia’s aggressiveness and outside shooting helped
the Kings get out to a 26-19 lead after the first quarter. Garcia ended with 17 points, four boards, two steals and three bombs from
The nearly sold out crowd almost lifted the roof off the antiquated building after an incredible behind the back pass from newcomer Marcus Thornton. The pass to Donte Greene for the one-handed stuff gave the Kings a 38-21 lead less than three minutes into the second period of play.
Coach Paul Westphal’s three guard combo of Beno Udrih, Thornton and Evans is starting to show some promise. They can trap the ball so quickly and pressure the ball handler so well that turnovers are created and fast breaks are run to perfection. Considering that all three can handle the ball, shoot well and deliver the pass, the ability to make the opposing team match up to them instead of the other way around will be a constant in this new-look version of the Kings.
It must be noted that reserve forward Darnell Jackson was the Kings leading scorer with 11 points with just over four minutes remaining in
the opening half. This game, he was able to get more minutes since Samuel Dalembert and Cousins had picked up their second foul and
Westphal wanted to make sure they were both available for unlimited minutes in the second half.
Sacramento would maintain a double-digit lead for most of the third. As soon as the Jazz pulled to within five points about four minutes
into the quarter, the Kings would make it a 15-point lead less than three minutes later as the swarming defense paid off.
The trend continued through the end of the game. Utah would never get closer than nine points again.
For the Jazz, Paul Milsap had 21 points and seven boards and Gordon Hayward set a personal high with 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting.
Another bright spot for the ailing Jazz was the performance of recent NBDL call-up Kyle Weaver. Weaver had 19 points off the bench, which included three from long range.
For Cousins and the rest of the Kings, it was another step in the maturation process, another game under their collective belts to
figure out how to play together and jell as a unit.
“Great defensive effort by the team tonight,” said Cousins. “We shared the ball good tonight and it resulted in a win. It was just a great
defensive effort tonight.”
Thornton has really found a niche on this team with Westphal’s newly envisioned three-guard offense and knows that it’s the defensive effort that always contributes to easy scores.
“Cisco, DeMarcus, Sammy – everyone played outstanding defense tonight and that is what got us the win,” said the second-year pro. “We were able to get out and get easy buckets. Against Utah, you need that because they play excellent half-court defense so you need easy
buckets against them.”
Coach Westphal must be, in some ways, sorry the season is coming to a close. In a crazy year that has been filled with the possibility of
the team leaving or not leaving, injuries and infighting, benchings and bloody noses – recently, things in SacTown have the look of a
brighter future. Coach Westphal is sad to see only a few games left on the schedule.
“We’re sorry that the season is coming to an end,” said Westphal. “We’re not just looking forward to the season ending; we want to go
out there and fight these teams and hopefully hurt some of their playoff chances.”
GAME NOTES: The Kings had six players who scored in double figures. Besides Garcia, Evans, Cousins and Jackson, Thornton had 15 points, 7 boards and 7 assists and Udrih pitched in with 12 of his own . . . The Kings ended with 29 assists to only 13 turnovers . . . Cousins and the rest of the Kings’ big men held Al Jefferson in check with only 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting . . . The Jazz were missing several regulars as Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Ronnie Price and Devin Harris are all out with injuries.