Nothing comes easy for these Sacramento Kings. With a 14 point lead early in the third quarter, it looked as if this might be a game where Sacramento would be able to cruise to victory for once, and we as fans wouldn't have to worry till the very end on the outcome. But alas, it was not meant to be, as Jacque Vaughn's pesky Magic very quickly turned around and made it a game again. The Magic dominated the first 8 minutes of the second half, going on a 25-6 run.
Sacramento was saved in the fourth quarter by the strong play of their bench players, in particular Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette and Thomas Robinson. Thomas and Fredette both scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, and Robinson's hustle and effort on defense helped turn around the game for Sacramento.
Sacramento was without Tyreke Evans for the third time in four games. Evans was a late-scratch to the game as he still felt some soreness in his knee. In somewhat of a surprise move, Coach Keith Smart opted to start Francisco Garcia in his place instead of Marcus Thornton. Garcia actually played relatively well, at least in his first half stint, where he was particularly active with his help defense, blocking three shots.
The Kings were able to get out to a double-digit lead in the first half thanks to a combination of good defense and poor shooting by the Magic. At halftime the Magic had scored just 34 points and if Sacramento had been a little less careless with the ball and more judicious with their own shot selection, they could have been up by more than the 12 points they were. DeMarcus Cousins in particular was really struggling in the first half. Glen Davis, not particularly known for his defense, got the better of Cousins a few times in the post. Of Cousins' four turnovers, I think about three of them came in failed post-ups of Davis.
Davis ended up being the leading scorer of the game with 20 points of the game, almost all of which came right at the basket. He did shoot just 8-19 from the field, mostly from when he settled for outside shots. Jameer Nelson was perhaps the real star for the Magic, spurring their second half comeback. He made a mockery of the Kings' defense several times, and even when Sacramento did play tough on him, he still managed to hit some shots. One of his threes over Isaiah Thomas was particularly difficult. In terms of scoring, Nelson and Davis were joined by Arron Afflalo (18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and rookie Andrew Nicholson (14 points, 5 rebounds), while the rest of the Magic combined for just 13 points.
Sacramento saw a more well-rounded contribution. DeMarcus Cousins didn't have the best shooting night, but still managed to have a big impact on the game with 17 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks to boot. Aaron Brooks was a bright spot in the first half, and finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal.
The bench was key though. With all the momentum going the Magic way after that terrible third quarter, Sacramento needed to shake things up and Keith Smart did just that. Smart chose to play small-ball and put Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton on the court at the same time, with Thomas Robinson and Chuck Hayes. On paper, that lineup doesn't look too great, but they matched up well with the Magic's own version of small ball. Isaiah came in and completely changed the pace of the game, getting the Kings into their offense mere seconds after he'd receive the ball. Sacramento had 25 fast break points tonight, a season-high, and Isaiah was a big part of that. Thomas showed great recognition in the fourth when the Magic were in the penalty, attacking the basket at every opportunity to try to get to the line. It was a strategy that really helped win the team the game, as Sacramento shot 16-18 from the Free Throw stripe in the fourth quarter alone. Isaiah hit 7 of those. He finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and just 1 turnover.
Lest I forget, our other sophomore point guard had an excellent night as well. Jimmer Fredette made some huge baskets for Sacramento, including a fastbreak three to give Sacramento back the lead for good at the 8:30 mark of the fourth quarter. Jimmer's damage didn't all come from the perimeter though, as he was able to show off some nifty ballhandling skills to get to the basket, where he utilized his much improved floater. Defensively, he also did a better job than I expected against J.J. Redick. Redick shot just 2-10 from the field in 34 minutes and finished with 6 points, compared to 15 points in 21 minutes on 5-7 shooting for Jimmer.
Thomas Robinson also came up big for Sacramento, even if his stats don't necessarily reflect it. Robinson struggled offensively to finish around the basket and went 0-5 from the field, but he didn't let that affect the rest of his game. Robinson worked extremely hard on defense and on the glass, snatching 7 boards in his 17 minutes. He also dished three timely assists, got two steals and should have been credited for a couple of blocks. Robinson still has a lot of work to do to polish his game but you have to love the intensity and effort he gives every time he steps onto the floor.
Marcus Thornton had another rough night shooting wise, going 1-7 for the second game in a row. Like any shooter, Thornton is going through a slump, and hopefully he'll get out of it soon, because on most nights this team won't do well with him scoring just 5 points on 7 shots.
With tonight's win the Kings are now .500 at home but have yet to win on the road. They'll get four chances to do so over the next week, starting in Portland.