Thomas leads Kings over Timberwolves, 101-98
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Coming off a forgettable first half, Tyreke Evans made up for it by playing a memorable final two quarters.
Evans scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half, and Isaiah Thomas had 24 points and six assists to help the Sacramento Kings earn their third straight home win by holding off the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves 101-98 on Thursday night.
Evans has grown more confident with his outside shot this season, but his game is still depends on penetrating to the basket.
He did plenty of that in the second half when he made 7 of 8 shots and converted 4 of 5 free throws. Evans made all four of his shots in the fourth quarter when he scored 11 points. He was not a factor in the opening half when he was 1 of 3.
“I was being more aggressive; I was kind of going through the motions in the first half,” said Evans, who added five assists and five rebounds. “I wasn’t in a groove and in the second half I started attacking the basket. I stayed patient. I know it’s a long game.”
This been a good stretch for the Kings, who have had one of the worst records in the Western Conference for much of the season. They have won two straight and own a 6-5 record since a double-overtime loss Feb. 26 in Miami.
Sacramento is 19-15 at home. That’s the most home wins for the Kings in the last four seasons and they still have seven games left at Sleep Train Arena.
“Our offense has gotten a lot better, we’re spacing the floor and playing more unselfish,” Thomas said. “And we’re really getting dialed in on defense. We’ve been able to turn our defense into our offense.”
Thomas preserved the victory at the end by crowding Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio along the sideline and forcing him to give up the ball with the clock running down.
Rubio managed to get the ball to Dante Cunningham, who missed a 3-point attempt with 1 second left that would have sent the game into overtime.
“I just wanted to make it tough on him (Rubio),” Thomas said. “I knew they needed a 3-point shot. Actually, I thought he still had the ball. I don’t know how he got that pass off.”
The sequence came after Evans made a rare fourth-quarter mistake, giving the Timberwolves the chance to tie the game. With Sacramento leading by three, Evans knifed through the Minnesota defense but a poor pass resulted in a turnover.
“At one point, Evans was doing everything — scoring and assisting,” said Rubio, who scored eight fourth-quarter points. “He played amazing today and their victory is because of him.”
Nikola Pekovic had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost two straight and four of five. Injury-plagued Minnesota has dropped 21 of 28 games since Jan. 8. The Timberwolves have lost nine straight and 17 of 18 on the road.
Rubio finished with 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for Minnesota, which beat the Kings twice this season. Derrick Williams and Greg Stiemsma had 12 points apiece and Cunningham added 11.
“Too many spurts by them,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “It started at the end of the first half and then the third quarter again. We gave them too many easy opportunities and too many flat-out penetrations. That makes the game hard.”
DeMarcus Cousins had 15 points and 14 rebounds for Sacramento. John Salmons added 13 and Patrick Patterson 11.
Rubio made a jumper and hit four free throws to cut the Kings’ lead to 99-97, but Evans ended a Kings scoring drought of three-plus minutes with a basket, giving Sacramento a 101-97 lead with 41 seconds remaining.
“I tried different lineups and finally found a group that kind of gave us a little bit of power,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “Eventually, we found a group that took us over the hump offensively. We pulled out a win after we didn’t have anything when we started the game.”
There was also news off the court for the Kings on Thursday. Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle have brought Vivek Ranadive aboard in a move that should strengthen their bid to keep the team in Sacramento.
Ranadive, the chairman and chief executive of TIBCO Software in Palo Alto, Calif., appears to be the new leader in the bid to buy the team. Ranadive also is a limited partner and vice chairman of the Golden State Warriors. He would have to sell his share of the Warriors if he became an owner with the Kings.
Sacramento is trying to keep the team and prevent it from being sold to a Seattle group headed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
The NBA board of governors is expected to vote in mid-April on the fate of the Kings.
Chase Budinger played for the first time since tearing the meniscus in his left knee in Nov. 10 against Chicago. Budinger was playing in only his seventh game this season and finished with nine points in 18 minutes.
“It was a lot better than I expected,” Budinger said. “I was still a little nervous and got tired legs, especially in the second half. But all and all, it felt pretty good.”
Thomas enjoyed a big first half and continued to give Minnesota trouble in the third quarter. The feisty point guard scored eight points and so did Evans to give Sacramento a 79-77 lead heading into the fourth.
Trailing since early in the second quarter, the Kings took the lead in the third quarter on a dunk by Cousins at the 3:02 mark. The Kings trailed by four points at the half, but outscored the Timberwolves 26-20 in the third quarter.
Pekovic got off to a fast start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter and 13 by halftime in helping the Timberwolves to a 57-53 lead. Thomas had 14 points and Patterson added 11 for the Kings.
“It’s a tough matchup against Pekovic,” said Cousins, who outplayed the Minnesota center in the second half. “He’s a big strong guy and he’s a solid player.”
NOTES: Luke Ridnour is the only player on the Minnesota roster not to miss a game this season. ... Adelman guided the Kings for eight seasons and the team had a winning record and made the playoffs every year. The Kings haven’t had a winning season or gone to the playoffs since he was fired after the 2005-06 season. . Kings reserve forward James Johnson missed his fourth straight game due to personal reasons. . Rubio scored only two first-half points, but had six assists and five rebounds. ... Minnesota had a 21-0 edge in second-chance points.