The Sacramento Kings lost their second straight game on Monday night, falling to the world champion Golden State Warriors by a final of 122-103. There were plenty of reasons why the Kings fell, but there was one reason why this game was completely worth watching.
No, it wasn’t worth tuning in to see an epic meltdown by center Demarcus Cousins - we’ll get to that in a bit. It also wasn’t due to a barrage of points by Stephen Curry during a three minute stretch of the second quarter. To be honest, that’s nothing new for the game’s best player.
Omri Casspi has become the Kings best kept secret. Whether he is running the floor for a Rajon Rondo hail mary or sitting at the elbow for a 3-ball, Casspi has become the Kings most reliable performer.
Left for dead by most NBA teams a season ago, Casspi returned to Sacramento, the team that drafted him 24th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, on a minimum scale contract. His performance last season earned him a two-year deal to stick around in Sacramento, but well below market value.
On a big stage Monday night, Casspi put himself on every highlight show, including plenty in his homeland of Israel.
With Cousins and Rondo both sitting on the bench with three fouls in the second quarter, Casspi went to work on the Warriors, going toe-to-toe with the league’s reigning MVP.
The play-by-play reads something like this:
“That last four minutes of the second quarter was crazy,” George Karl told reporters following the game. “Casspi made one from 26 (feet), Curry made one from 30 and Casspi made one from 32, and then Curry made one from 35. I don’t know how far out they were, but they looked like they were way out. It took a long time to get to the rim. Everyone was in the bottom. It was great.”
The end result was a 61-58 Kings lead at the half. Casspi walked into the intermission with 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field and 7-for-9 from long range. Curry picked up after a slow start and finished the half well on his way to a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
“It felt good,” Casspi said following the game. “He missed a few shots early in the game, I missed a few shots early in the game, and then we kind of got it going. Sometimes you just need to see it go in one time and then you get your confidence and everything. That’s what it took.”
While the play on the floor was entertaining, it did nothing but feed a hungry Oracle Arena crowd that is used to incredible offensive displays. This is Warriors basketball and despite the halftime lead, the Kings had awoken a sleeping giant.
“Yeah, that was crazy,” Quincy Acy said. “I was just telling the guys that for a five-minute stretch there that was just like a video game. We can’t play like that. They’re very successful playing like that. We’ve got to button down and get stops at times like that.”
Casspi finished the night with a career-high 36 points on 13-of-18 shooting. His nine made 3-pointers tied Mike Bibby for the Kings’ franchise best.
With the big night, Casspi took over as the league leader in 3-point percentage at 48.7 percent. In his seventh NBA season, he is averaging a career-bests in points at 12.9 points per game, rebounds at 6.5 a night and he’s shooting 52.3 percent from the field overall. Not bad for a player who had a tough time finding work a season ago.
Cousins picked up his first foul nine seconds into the game. Just 21 seconds into the game, Rondo had already picked up two as the referees set the standard for how the game was going to be officiated.
By the end of the first quarter, both Cousins and Rondo had picked up their third fouls. Neither played a minute in the second quarter as Karl stuck to the players that were fighting to keep the team in the game against the NBA’s best team.
To their credit, both of the Kings’ star players were up off the bench cheering on Casspi and a rag-tag group as they pushed the lead all the way to 11 before Curry caught fire going to the half. The Kings withstood an incredible run and walked into halftime with a narrow lead. The third quarter should have marked the moment when reinforcements arrived.
“DeMarcus is a big piece and we need him every night,” Casspi said. “They made a run, they hit threes. They play so well together, they get the ball, they move it around. They get so many open looks. They’re just a tough team to play against. Obviously without DeMarcus it’s going to be a lot harder.”
But that’s not the way the game went. Cousins picked up his fourth foul at the 9:25 mark of the third. 28 seconds later, with his team leading by two, Cousins picked up his fifth foul reaching in on Curry.
At first it looked like Ben McLemore might get the call, saving Cousins another long stint on the bench. But the call stood and Cousins lost it.
Cousins rushed towards official Monty McCutchen yelling and flailing his arms. Rudy Gay stepped in to take most of Cousins’ weight, but the combination of actions and words resulted in two technicals and an ejection.
The Warriors dropped in the two freebies to tie the game and then proceeded to rattle off another 13 straight points to bury the Kings. After an entertaining 27 minutes of basketball, the fun was sucked out of the building by Cousins’ inability to control his temper.
Cousins is more than a big part of what the Kings do. Unfortunately for the other 12 guys in uniform, their best player took all of the positive momentum that they had built with him on the bench in the first half and threw it out the window in a moment of weakness.