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#SmartBall helps Kings overcome 21-point gap, beat Bucks 103-100

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Unbelievable! Amazing! Jaw-dropping! Spectacular!

In sports writing, superlatives are greatly overused. Heck, even The Court Jester abuses the Queen’s English occasionally!

In this case, however, I think not!

After being down 58-37 at the half, being outshot from the floor 60.5 percent to 31.8 perccent in the first half and only scoring 12 points in the second quarter, it looked like another lackluster Kings performance would etch another loss in the standings Thursday evening.

Not so fast, my pretty!

After a day of showing Coach Paul Westphal the door, elevating assistant Keith Smart to the position full-time and holding a players-only film study session before the game, the Kings came out in the second half, scored 66 points and played great defense to pull off the improbable win against the Milwaukee Bucks 103-100 in what had to be the greatest home comeback victory in Sacramento Kings history.

Even though the Kings got out to a 13-6 lead, one could just feel that their recent poor play would be extended at least one more night. Eight turnovers in the first quarter and only shooting 25 percent in the second seemed like it would be enough to doom the Kings once again.

But here’s the thing.

The entire game, the Kings were moving the ball, driving to the basket and making the extra pass: everything Smart asked them to do in his first game as the man in charge. It’s just that the shots weren’t falling, and it seemed like every contested jumper by the Bucks was going through the net.

Tyreke Evans (26 points, 10 boards, 5 assists), Marcus Thornton (27 points, 5 boards) and DeMarcus Cousins (19 points, 15 boards, 2 steals) were the stars of the show.

Early in the game, it was Evans that gave the Kings even a small chance of pulling out a much-needed win by scoring 10 points in the first quarter. Other than that, Cousins was being aggressive, but his shots close to the rim were not going in.

The usually hot-starting Thornton was only one of eight from the field at the intermission. He was so displeased with his performance that he came out early from the halftime break and shot something like 30 three-point shots to try to find a rhythm.

It worked!

Thornton went nine of 15 and scored 25 of his 27 in the second half to help propel the comeback.

Even after the third quarter came to a close, the Kings still found themselves down 82-68.

Yet something was different. Was it just the Westphal firing that put extra energy into a team that was playing its third game in three nights and five in six nights?

I’ll let Cousins explain it to you.

“Everybody said it,” the Kings big man said. “You just felt free out there. You didn’t feel like you had 30-pound bags on your back. You felt good that we were having fun even though we were battling back the whole time. We were having fun working!”

Fun. A little three-letter word that might make all the difference in the world this lockout-shortened season for this team.

The fourth quarter was all Kings.

Despite Brandon Jennings killing it with 31 points and hitting six three-pointers along the way, the Kings pushed the ball hard and laid the smack down on defense. In the end, they outscored the Bucks in the fourth 35-18.

It was either Thornton hitting a jumper, Cousins taking it to the rack hard (and scoring) or Evans driving and getting to the free throw line that made the difference.

Sacramento closed the game on a 22-8 run but wouldn’t take their first lead since late in the first quarter until there was 18 seconds left in the game.

“I just told them to play hard,” Smart said in the post-game press conference. “Just play hard first, and after that your game will kick in. That’s all I said to them. I didn’t go in with a rah-rah speech. I just play hard, and things will start to happen.”

Evans agreed with Cousins in saying that things felt a little different against the Bucks.

“We were just out there playing free,” he said. “He’s a great coach. He’s putting in new things to help guys get looks at the rim and at the basket. We just have to work with him.”

It sounds like the start of a beautiful relationship.

Let’s hope the newly coined hash-tag for Twitter (#SmartBall) catches on in more ways than one! [You should explain this more. What does this have to do with the Kings?]

Kings notes: In the second quarter, Chuck Hayes suffered a dislocated left shoulder in a collision and is expected to be out three to four weeks . . . Despite the slow start and most of his jumpers falling short of the rim, John Salmons scored 13 and had six boards . . . J.J. Hickson had 11 rebounds and seven points . . . Kings went from shooting 31.8 percent shooting in the first half to 48.9 percent in the second half . . . Next game is at home versus the Orlando Magic on Sunday. 

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