DeMarcus Cousins clanged a meaningless three off the back of the rim, then wrapped Marcus Thornton in a bear hug and offered words of encouragement for his dejected teammate.
While the Sacramento Kings’ season didn’t officially end Monday night, Cousins’ closing sequence summed it up as well as any image could: mildly encouraging, strongly emotional, ultimately unsatisfying.
Both Cousins (a career-high 30 points) and Thornton (21 points, 9 rebounds, 6 steals) accumulated impressive stats, but neither could make the plays to hold off the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. were efficient and cohesive in their tune-up for this weekend’s playoffs.
The Thunder’s team defense was at its most ferocious whenever the Kings got the ball inside. Westbrook, Eric Maynor, and Thabo Sefalosha broke up numerous fast breaks, while Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins got their hands on seemingly every low-post attempt. Their stalwart work accounted in large part for the Thunder’s 50-32 edge in points in the paint.
Cousins did his best to combat the long-armed wall of interior defense, fighting his way to 21 free throw attempts. He converted 18 of them, serving notice that he can become an offensive focal point if he continues to anchor his game near the hoop.
Jason Thompson had another in his recent series of strong games, scoring 16 points despite his grating tendency to needlessly up-fake when close to the hoop. Beno Udrih nearly played Westbrook to a standstill, scoring 21 points and hustling after the ball at midcourt to the extent that he almost canceled out his counterpart’s surreal athleticism.
Mental mistakes undid the Kings in the end, though. With a chance to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to three with under two minutes left, Francisco Garcia and Thornton failed to convert a 2-on-1 fast break. Moments later, Thornton threw the ball away after stealing it at midcourt, failing to find one of the three teammates who was open downcourt.
Kevin Durant had the quietest, most efficient 32 points possible, taking only 16 field goals and hitting 15 of 17 free throws. He and Westbrook did combine for 12 turnovers, but as noted above, his teammates did an outstanding job of keeping those giveaways from turning into Kings points.
Sacramento’s crowd was an understandable mix of supportive and edgy, enjoying what was most likely the penultimate NBA game in Sacramento. Many of them field for the exits with seconds left in the game, as if the pain of watching another close game slip away, coupled with their team’s impending exodus, was too much to bear.
They’ll have one more chance to be part of what was once the league’s most raucous group of fans, this Wednesday against the Lakers. Other events may render that outcome meaningless for L.A., but one hopes that Kings fans get a memorable farewell performance.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.