While the entire NBA world was watching the Warriors bring a holy whooping down on the Tim Duncan-less Spurs last night, the Sacramento Kings and the Charlotte Hornets played one of the very best games of the season, a 129-128 Hornets win in double overtime. It sort of made perfect sense that they’d be relatively invisible, opposite the most highly anticipated matchup of the regular season, and just a few hours down the road from Oakland. Neither team particularly matters to the NBA at large right now, but both are fighting for a chance to make the playoffs, no matter how futile the task of getting past the Warriors/Cavs might be. So, last night’s game was irrelevant, but it was near perfect.
It all starts with DeMarcus Cousins. Fresh off a 48-point demolition job of the Pacers this weekend, the Kings’ talismanic volcano of a center somehow one-upped himself and turned in one of the best games in the history of the franchise. Boogie finished with 56 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, seven turnovers, and six fouls. The gaudy point total jumps out at you (it’s the most in Kings history), but those last two numbers are critical too.
Cousins is an ugly player. Even when he’s feathering leaners in the lane or dunking on guys, there’s a visible strain to his game. He never takes the easy route to the hoop, as if he insists, “Can’t go over it, can’t go around it, gotta go through it,” only the “it” is Spencer Hawes, not the Misty Mountains. Three Hornets (Hawes, Marvin Williams, Tyler Hansbrough) were alternately tasked with stopping him, and they all fouled out. Boogie might get fouled on every single play, but he also might commit fouls on half of them. Every play is a rock fight, even the pretty ones. When he gets around hapless defenders and gets to the rim, it’s less a graceful slide into the paint and more like a ton of bricks somehow dunking on you. Here, watch him beat up a bunch of guys.
The other thing about Boogie: he’s a bleeding heart on the court. With every slight, real or perceived, he emotes with such intensity at his teammates, the officials, the audience, anyone. After he somehow grabbed a rebound through three Hornets in the second overtime, he clocked the living shit out of Frank Kaminsky for his sixth foul. Cousins’s historic night ended suddenly, because of the same burly intensity that got him his 56. His walk to the bench was laced with typical Boogie histrionics: he made the cartoon-eyes-popping-out-of-his-head face at every official before that gave way to aggressive pouting, which ended with him flinging his headband and yelling while three Kings assistants and Caron Butler blocked the officials’ view of him so he could go off without getting his second technical.
That second overtime, even without the presence of Cousins, was as strange as the rest of the game. Rudy Gay nearly got his eye poked out of his head by Kemba Walker, and the only two made field goals came in the last 11 seconds of the period. After five minutes of fouls and intransigent offense, Troy Daniels let loose a bomb from 27 feet. It was the first moment of pretty basketball in 2OT. It was also a travel and shouldn’t have counted, so it was the perfect way to end such a weird wrestling match of a game.
Elsewhere: Rajon Rondo ended up with 20 assists, but somehow looked bad doing it. His most valuable contribution of the night was running a solid 30 seconds of misdirection to take Kemba Walker (who went 5-for-25) out of his rhythm before he missed a would-be game-winning free throw in regulation. Daniels of all people hit eight threes. Willie Cauley-Stein looked like a loping, young Tyson Chandler at points, and an overathletic, underskilled rookie at others.
There’s this championship-or-bust notion in the NBA aether, that any season spent without a legitimate shot at either a championship or the No. 1 pick is a wasted season, that squeaking into the playoffs only to get shellacked is a waste of a chance to draft a superstar (this is what the “Trade Chris Paul!” chorus is squawking about, that somehow the historically downtrodden Clippers should piss away their best ever team because the probably won’t win it all). That idea felt so absurd last night. Deeply mediocre teams like the Hornets and Kings don’t matter, sure, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs in a decade, and Charlotte is trying to make it there for the first time as the second incarnation of the Hornets. As small as those stakes might seem, they made this middle-of-nowhere game one of the best and most fun of the season. You don’t watch the NBA to kill time until the Finals; you watch it to be entertained.
Photo via AP