On a night when a sellout crowd pleaded with the Sacramento Kings not to leave after 27 years in California’s capital, it was the shortest-tenured King who sealed his team’s triumph.
Marcus Thornton, who joined the team via a trade late last week, made his third game as a King one to remember by scoring 16 fourth-quarter points, equaling the total output by the visiting Clippers in that period.
Thornton did most of his damage close to the hoop, taking advantage of smaller Clippers defenders Mo Williams and Randy Foye. Only one of his four field goals in the fourth was assisted – he also hit eight free throws in the period, and assisted two other baskets – as he showed that even in an unfamiliar offense, his scoring ability made it from New Orleans intact. He had 29 points on the night, following efforts of 19 and 14 points in his previous two games since joining the Kings.
The Kings wore throwback Rochester Royals uniforms in their return to Arco Arena after a seven-game road trip that began before the All-Star break. The crowd displayed equal amounts passion and anxiety, knowing that tomorrow, March 1, marks the deadline for Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof to file paperwork requesting a move to Anaheim for the 2011-12 season. Signs throughout the arena begged the owners to reconsider. Even Sacramento Mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson was on hand, insisting in a second-quarter televised interview that the Kings were already in their ideal location.
The 17,317 in attendance watched another uneven performance by the patched-together Kings, who are still without leading scorer and reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans. Thornton’s moments of brilliance were counterbalanced by another miserable night for DeMarcus Cousins, who hit 1-8 field goals and 3-10 free throws in 28 frustrating minutes. He hit his nadir by traveling and committing one loose-ball foul and one offensive foul within a 45-second span in the last two minutes of the game with Sacramento clinging to a four-point lead.
An increasingly-ugly Kings subplot developed further as Clippers TV commentators Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith seemed to miss no opportunity to belittle Cousins for his on-court struggles and questionable body language. Much of their criticism was justified, but it seems that Cousins’ immature reputation has turned each of his games into trial runs for broadcasters who harbor fantasies of hosting celebrity roasts. Among tonight’s gems was Lawler confidently predicting Cousins would sabotage Sacramento’s possession with under one minute remaining, listing all of his potential mishaps: “He could turn it over, he could commit a foul, he could get a T . . .” On cue, Cousins plowed his shoulder into Blake Griffin for his offensive foul. Not to be outdone, Smith offered to mow Lawler’s lawn if Cousins hit two clinching free throws with 28.4 seconds left. He missed the first, but hit the second for a four-point lead.
It’s a shame that he drew so much focus tonight when his team performed heroically in the face of serious adversity, lifting a crowd that teetered on the brink of a meltdown all evening and giving every attendee a night to remember. The Kings overcame subpar shooting (5-18 three-pointers, 24-35 free throws) and stagnant offense (14 assists on 38 made field goals) to defeat a Clippers team that got strong performances from Griffin, Foye and new arrival Williams. They did not play a great basketball game, but they showed enough dignity and character to deliver what their fans so desperately needed as they await closure on the relocation issue.
And in less than 12 hours, we should know whether tonight was the start of a big step forward, or of a farewell tour.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.