The Sacramento Kings have not been playing well of late, losing four-straight coming into Thursday night’s game against the Mavericks. They also don’t play well in the second night of a back-to-back or on the road or in Dallas where they had lost 22-consecutive games.
But the Kings threw all of those negatives out the window for one night and came away with a big 104-101 victory at the American Airlines Center. It was the first win for the Kings in Dallas since 2003.
“I thought we came together today,” Darren Collison said. “They are a really good offensive team. It always feels good when you lose four games and you’re down, and then you win against a good team.”
The Kings owed the Mavericks big time. The last time Sacramento rolled through Dallas, they thought they had the Mavs beat and then Deron Williams hit a dagger at the buzzer of double-overtime to send the Kings home broken-hearted.
“The last time we played here we gave them a Christmas present and we didn’t want to do that again,” Karl said. “We know we can beat this team and I thought our focus had an anger to it.”
The Kings certainly looked focused and angry, except for when they stepped to the free throw line. Sacramento tried hard to give it away at the stripe, missing 10-of-20 free throws in the final quarter, including six bricks in the final minute.
DeMarcus Cousins, Marco Belinelli and Darren Collison all missed freebies in the waning moments, leaving a door wide open for a quality Mavs team.
“I know it will sound crazy, but making free throws is a great talent and making free throws in the fourth quarter is even a greater talent,” Karl said.
The Kings haven’t had a lot of late game success lately, but this was a gritty win for a team barely clinging to life in the race for the playoffs.
What was the missing ingredient that the Kings have been lacking over the last few games? Effort on the defensive end. The Kings have been a defensive sieve all season long, giving up a league worst 109.6 points per game.
Dallas managed to score 101 points, but the Kings made life difficult.
“It might be our best complete defensive game of the year,” George Karl said.
Everything felt different, except for the constant switching. The Kings rotated better. They closed out better and they actually showed on the pick-and-roll. Their energy level was strong from the opening tip, which had to shock the Mavericks, who dropped 117 points on this team the last time they met.
“I think it trickled down from yesterday’s game, we didn’t get the win, but in the second half we played better defense,” Rajon Rondo said following the game. “Tonight we came out and held them to 45 points in the first half and in the second half they made a little run, but that’s part of the game.”
The Kings customarily hand out multiple 30-point quarters to their opponents. But Thursday in Dallas, they held the Mavs in check until the fourth when the home team picked up plenty of extra possessions by stopping the clock and sending the Kings to the line.
“There weren’t many possessions where we didn’t have a good energy at the defensive end of the court,” Karl said.
Whether there is a new-found commitment on the defensive end or visiting consultant Tom Thibodeau sprinkled magic defensive dust into the Kings water bottles before the game is unknown.
What we do know is that the Kings have given up more than 101 points for 16 consecutive games before Thursday’s showdown in Dallas, and the team was just 4-12 during that stretch.
WELCOME HOME RAJON RONDO
Mavericks fans were relentless all night long, booing their former point guard every time he touched the ball.
Rondo has been clear that he made mistakes during his time with Dallas last season. Things digressed to the point where head coach Rick Carlisle sent the four-time All-Star packing in the middle of a playoff series.
Whatever fully transpired between player and coach damaged Rondo’s stock going into free agency. He signed a one-year $9.5 million deal with Sacramento in the offseason in hopes of rebuilding some of his lost reputation.
With the fans on his back, Rondo dominated the action, finishing with 18 points, 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals in 38 minutes of action.
“You know it’s not easy, there’s a lot of things going through your mind,” Collison said of Rondo’s return to Dallas. “You obviously want to play well, but he exceeded expectations on what he wanted to do and most importantly, he got the win.”
Rondo missed the first matchup in Dallas between these two teams back in January with lower back pain. For much of the night he was the best player on the floor.
Following the game, he tried to hide his emotions, but they kept bubbling to the surface during his postgame chat with CSN’s Kayte Christensen.
“It felt like home,” Rondo said of playing in Dallas. “Without the boos, but other that that, it’s a great court to play on and it’s definitely a great place to get a mother-...., get a win.”
Indeed, a great place to get a win. Now if the Kings can bottle this success and take it with them to San Antonio on Saturday night, they might be onto something.