Utah Jazz fans, unaccustomed to watching their team lose at home, finally found a little relief on Saturday night. Raja Bell’s two critical jump shots in the last minute of overtime propelled the hosts to their first triumph in their last seven contests at Energy Solutions Arena. The Sacramento Kings were left to wonder what went wrong, while hoping that their gutsy play will at least bode well for the future.
The possible future Orange County residents suffered a frustrating loss but acquitted themselves well against a veteran team fueled by a desperate home crowd. In particular, rookie center DeMarcus Cousins showed signs of his long-awaited maturation.
Cousins still felt compelled to hoist three long jump shots, all of which he missed badly, but he built on Wednesday’s impressive showing against Portland by otherwise focusing his attack on the basket area. HIs 6-18 field goal shooting does not reflect his effectiveness, as he repeatedly bulled his way to the hoop for baskets or fouls, while also yanking down six offensive rebounds (and 18 total).
While his scoring showed pleasant signs of development, the big man’s passing was outright transcendent. The box score indicates seven assists, but neglects to mention that every one of Cousins’ scoring passes gave a teammate a wide-open dunk or layup. He could have had a triple-double if Beno Udrih had converted a few more close-in looks, but the big picture shows that the Kings are probably one or two years away from having the undisputed best passing center in the league. Cousins setting up in the pinch post or mid-post areas was Sacramento’s best offense tonight, and as long as his teammates keep moving off the ball, his unselfishness and vision will keep every defender accountable.
It was a shame that not all of the Kings were enthusiastic about floor spacing and movement. Particularly, new acquisition Marcus Thornton – who had scored 29 and 26 points in the last two contests – insisted on forcing numerous shots off stagnant one-on-one action which allowed Utah’s slower defenders to settle into help positions. Thornton ended at least 15 possessions by hoisting a contested shot after much dribbling, converting only four of the isolation shots and finishing with 22 points overall on 8-21 field goals.
His three-pointer with 14.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter tied the game at 95 to force overtime, and perfectly illustrated the frustration of watching his performance: after having missed his four previous shots, all of which came on one-on-one moves, he made a perfect weak-side cut to the left wing for a pass from Jason Thompson that found him wide-open for the game-tying look. If he had trusted his teammates that much for the other 52:46 of the game, the result could have been different.
Francisco Garcia made a welcome return to Sacramento’s lineup after a strained left calf had sidelined him for more than a month. He made five of his six field goal attempts and all four of his free throws, carrying the second team’s offense and providing a general nuisance for Utah’s occasionally lackluster defensive rotations.
For the Jazz, Al Jefferson put on an effective low-post display with 27 points on 25 shots, although he only attempted two free throws and grabbed seven rebounds. Devin Harris showed a reasonable command of his new offense, but did cough up the ball five times in 36 minutes.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.