When the Sacramento Kings defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 22nd, they improved to 8-5 and had already compiled a list of impressive wins over teams' like the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls. After the game, Flip Saunders called DeMarcus Cousins one of the NBA's best centers. "Boogie" scored 31 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to help down the Wolves, 113-101.
Cousins played in two more games before it was discovered that he had contracted viral meningitis and Sacramento was 2-7 in his absence when the decision was made to fire head coach Michael Malone. They're now 3-6 under Ty Corbin, who will serve as head coach for the remainder of the season.
On Thursday before tip-off, Saunders mentioned this is the second time Corbin has taken over a team mid-season, but he didn't project too much sympathy, probably because his own team won only once in December -- the Wolves were hoping to avoid a 10-game losing streak entering the game.
Corbin sent out Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams and DeMarcus Cousins to counter Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young and Gorgui Dieng. Lackadaisical defending allowed Sacramento to shoot 78 percent in the opening frame, the Wolves trailed, 37-29.
Saunders said the Wolves "came out with poor energy" after the game, and that, aside from Wiggins, "the starters weren't very good."
Wiggins carried the Wolves throughout the second quarter with 15-points on 5-of-6 shooting. He also made all four of his free throw attempts and showed he's capable of exploiting weaker, undersized defenders like McLemore on his own. The encouraging part about his performance was that Saunders' wasn't force feeding him like we've seen happen before.
By halftime the Wolves had cut the deficit to two but still trailed, 60-58.
Missed shots, turnovers and sub-optimal transition defense littered the third-quarter, although they never faced any sort of overwhelming lead. After a sloppy period of basketball, Sacramento lead entering the final frame, 84-80.
Although they were able to hang on and defeat the Wolves on Thursday, Sacramento is certainly not the same team without Malone as their coach. Cousins appeared distraught, frustrated and astonished when things didn't go his way. He eventually fouled out after playing only four minutes in the fourth quarter. Much like they did the last time these two teams played at Target Center, the crowd expressed their disdain for Boogie by booing him... often.
Delightfully, Troy Daniels provided a spark off-the-bench by scoring 10 points in just over 10 minutes.
Thad Young tied the game at 99 with 4:09 remaining. Had he made the second of two free throws, the Wolves would have taken the lead. However, Shabazz Muhammad grabbed the offensive rebound and found Wiggins on the perimeter.
Wiggins' missed the ensuing 3-pointer, McLemore grabbed the rebound and passed to Darren Collison, who brought the ball up court before dishing to Derrick Williams in the corner. Williams connected and Sacramento took the lead, 102-99.
Muhammad hit a 3-pointer of his own that pulled the Wolves within one, but there was only 2.5 seconds left on the clock. They had to foul. Subsequently, Collison went to the line, made both free throws and extended the lead to three. Flip Saunders called timeout to advance the ball to halfcourt. He could draw up a play that, if his players could execute, could potentially send the game into overtime.
The Wolves found a way to get Troy Daniels open for a shot that would have tied the game, but he missed everything and time expired. Sacramento won their second game in Minnesota this season, 110-107.
Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins had fouled out of the game, so who knows what would have happened during overtime.
We feel good about this win, we needed a win bad, but we've got work to do on both ends of the floor.
- Ty Corbin
While Cousins, Gay and the rest of the Sacramento Kings try to learn without Malone, Saunders talked about how his team is still figuring how to incorporate Daniels, who was acquired from the Houston Rockets as a part of the Corey Brewer deal consummated a few weeks ago.
In a Wolves uniform, Daniels has scored 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting (7-of-13 from deep) over six appearances (29 minutes). After the game, Saunders talked about locating Daniels when he's feeling it,
He spreads the floor. We still don't know how to use him (Daniels) on the floor. After he hit two 3's, if I'm on the floor, I'm goin'; 'where is he?' We gotta locate him (when he's on the floor).
The Wolves face the Utah Jazz, Saturday. They'll try to get revenge on their home floor after falling in Utah this past Tuesday, 100-94.