On the second night of a back-to-back, with almost nothing tangible left to play for and competing against a team on the brink of making the playoffs, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Sacramento Kings coast against the Dallas Mavericks Saturday.
For a while, it looked as if that was the way the night was shaping up, but something shifted—mentality, momentum, something—and the Kings tried to change the narrative of the game. They came out of halftime ablaze, going on a 12-2 run over a stretch in the third quarter to cut down their opponent’s lead before eventually claiming it themselves.
Coming off of a lopsided loss against perhaps the best team in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Kings competed Saturday, but the Mavericks narrowly edged out a 103-100 victory anyway.
Ray McCallum competed every second he was on the floor Saturday, which just so happened to be every second of regulation. Isaiah Thomas, nursing an injury, was in street clothes for a third consecutive game and, rather than resort to a backup-by-committee as he has in previous games, Michael Malone left McCallum in from tip-off to the final buzzer.
The rookie point guard played all 48 minutes on the backend of the consecutive games and, contrary to logic, improved as the game went on. McCallum was serviceable early, but had just a minor impact on the contest. In the second half, though, McCallum seemed to play with a recklessness and aggression that was predicated on increased confidence. After lunging for a steal in the fourth quarter, McCallum tip-toed the sideline, charged through multiple defenders—maneuvering the ball around his back in the process—before tossing in an off-balance layup as he fell to the floor.
Although McCallum’s second-half success was largely rooted in his aggressive approach, he displayed restraint and headiness throughout the game. In 48 minutes, he only turned the ball over twice (against eight assists) and committed just two fouls.
By the end of the game, McCallum was playing a key role in the Kings comeback effort, taking crucial shots without hesitation, and making them. He registered 16 points total, most of which came in the game’s final two quarters.
McCallum’s energy and effort were aided by Rudy Gay’s scoring. When Sacramento struggled to make shots early on, Gay pressed and hit some difficult jumpers. As the game went on, he continued to make shots and started to drive to the basket. Gay finished with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
The Kings put together an overall winning effort Saturday, but were hindered by their start and finish. They were stifled for much of the game’s early goings, greatly struggling to score before breaking through about a quarter and a half into the game.
In the final few minutes of regulation, the Mavericks showed why they are competing for a playoff spot, while the Kings displayed the reasons they’re stuck in the lottery once again. Dallas’ offensive execution late wasn’t flawless, but they were working at a high level nonetheless. Sacramento couldn’t keep up, bumbling on a few possessions and failing to get great looks on others.
If they can replicate Saturday’s performance over the next few days, though, the Kings should capture wins over the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers.