WASHINGTON (AP) With the pace off the charts and players driving to the basket at will, the first half of Wednesday night’s game between the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards looked like an All-Star game preview – minus the All-Stars.
Then a few things happened that weren’t All-Star-like at all: The Kings started playing some defense, DeMarcus Cousins made the unselfish decision to keep himself on the bench, and the coach of the losing team angrily ripped his players for pursuing “style over substance.”
Cousins and Tyreke Evans sat the entire fourth quarter while Marcus Thornton, rookie Isaiah Thomas and Chuck Hayes took over, leading Sacramento to a 115-107 win that snapped a six-game losing streak.
“I was getting ready to put Cousins back in,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “And he said `Let Chuck Hayes stay in the game.’ That’s gigantic for him. Tyreke Evans had a fabulous first half, came out of the game, didn’t play in the fourth quarter and simply cheered his teammates on.
“That’s the growth I’m trying for our team to have if we’re ever going to have a chance to be good and turn our franchise around.”
It made for an interesting set of numbers as the game progressed. Evans scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half, and Cousins had 14 of his 16 before halftime as well as 10 of his 16 rebounds. Meanwhile, Thornton scored 18 of his 22 in the second half, and Thomas had 16 of his 18 in the final two quarters. Hayes finished with six points – all in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
“Chuck was doing an incredible job out there on the floor,” Cousins said. “The group that was out there was going well, so there was no need for me to go in and change it.”
Right now, it’s hard to imagine such examples of team play coming from the Wizards, who made 6-of-16 shots in the fourth quarter. Washington has lost four straight and enters the All-Star break 19 games under .500.
“Until our team is committed to playing winning basketball – until they’re committed to doing that – we’re going to be like this team was tonight,” coach Randy Wittman said. “There wasn’t anything done in that second half to win that game.
“I know the term has been used – style over substance. We got a guy going in for a layup and does a reverse 360 and misses the whole thing. Crowd oohed and aahed. We didn’t get any points out of it. Until we’re committed to making winning basketball plays the whole game, it’s going to look like that.”
He kept going, referencing the Wizards’ 14 second-half turnovers.
“Why did we have those turnovers? When I’m double-teamed, I continue to try to do something against the double team,” Wittman said. “You’re going to turn it over, plain and simple.”
The player guilty of the failed 360 move was Nick Young, who was 6 of 23 and scored 17 points.
“I was the only one who did it. I did that in the past. If I make it, everybody’s on my side,” Young said. “If I miss it, then it’s a bad shot. … I didn’t know I had that many shots. I was just trying to get things going for my teammates. They brought me here for that and that’s one of the parts of my game.”
Jordan Crawford scored a season-high 32 points, and John Wall had 21 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for the Wizards.
“In that second half, we became selfish and didn’t play team defense,” Wall said, “and they picked us apart.”
The Kings said pretty much the same thing about themselves in the first half as the Wizards piled up 68 points at halftime, the most Washington has scored in any half this season. Neither of these losing teams will have a player in the All-Star game in Orlando on Sunday – the only representatives will be former Kentucky teammates Cousins and Wall in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday – but that didn’t keep both sides from getting in the spirit of fast-paced runs that met little resistance.
“There was no defense out there,” Cousins said. “It was terrible.”
The game included 58 fast break points and 102 points in the paint. The Kings led 104-103 with 3:44 to play, but Thomas scored the next basket to start a game-ending 11-4 run as Sacramento matched its highest point total of the season.
Thomas made 8 of his last 12 shots and has scored 78 points since taking the starting point guard spot four games ago, tying Otis Birdsong (1977) for the most points scored by a Kings rookie in his first four starts.
The win also gave the Kings an upbeat ending to their six-game road trip.
“It was important for us to get a win and go home over this break,” Smart said, “and not have to come back with all the world on our shoulders.”
Notes: In this lockout-shortened season, both the Kings (11-22) and Wizards (7-26) hit the break exactly halfway through their 66-game respective schedules. Sacramento improved to 4-17 on the road; Washington fell to 4-13 at home. … The Wizards had won six in a row at home against the Kings. … Washington F Jan Vesely was not on the bench at the start of the game because of a stomach virus, but he played in the second half. … Sacramento F-G John Salmons missed his second straight game with a sore right hip. … Players have been known to check out mentally in the final game before the All-Star vacation, and both coaches addressed it before the game. “I’ve been around it when I look in the tunnel and the limos are already there – ready to go to the next spot,” Smart said.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP