Thomas leads Kings past Celtics 118-96
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With the rest of the Kings’ backcourt banged up, Isaiah Thomas is making the most of his opportunity to start.
Thomas scored 27 points in his second start in the past six weeks and made one of Sacramento’s two four-point plays in the second half as the Kings handed the Boston Celtics their third straight lopsided loss on a California road swing, 118-96 on Sunday night.
”That guy has an infectious personality,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. ”He has that magnetism that brings players and people around to him. He brought that energy to start the game off right with him in the starting lineup. All our guards do a great job, but what he’s been able to do is kind of give us a little injection of the steam that we need. He’s done that, plus he’s making his shots.”
Thomas got the chance to start in part because Aaron Brooks (left ankle) and Tyreke Evans (left knee) are sidelined. The Kings also lost Marcus Thornton to a sprained left ankle during the game but it didn’t hurt them as they had their second-highest scoring game of the season and had at least 28 assists for the fourth straight game.
DeMarcus Cousins, in his second game back from a team suspension, made Boston pay for its double teams by posting 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first career triple-double.
John Salmons added 23 points off the bench and Jason Thompson scored 20 as Sacramento won its fourth straight home game.
”We played a great game as a team,” Thomas said. ”We were very unselfish. That usually happens when you’re unselfish and you’re playing aggressive – things start to open up.”
The Celtics are going in the other direction after handily beating Brooklyn on Christmas Day. They followed that win with a trip to California to face the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State and Sacramento and got outscored by 69 points in losing all three to fall two games under .500.
”The reason why guys came back is because of what we built here and that we are known to defend,” Boston forward Kevin Garnett said. ”For some reason, we’ve gotten away from that. So we’re going to have to go back to our origins to figure it out.”
The Kings were in control for most of this game and then pulled away with their long-range shooting in the fourth quarter. James Johnson and Jimmer Fredette made 3-pointers early in the fourth and then Salmons’ 3-pointer midway through the quarter off a pass from Cousins gave the Kings a 100-84 lead.
Cousins found Thomas for a long-range shot on Sacramento’s next trip while being fouled by Paul Pierce. Thomas added the free throw for the four-point play that made it 104-86 with 5 minutes to play.
Cousins had six of his assists in the fourth quarter to get the triple-double.
”It felt good, first one of my career,” he said. ”I’m just glad my teammates gave me the opportunity to do it.”
Even the return to the lineup of star point guard Rajon Rondo couldn’t help the Celtics. Rondo, who missed Saturday’s loss at Golden State with a bruised right thigh and hip, missed his first five shots and finished with two points and 10 assists.
Pierce scored 20 points to give him 23,189 in his career, passing Adrian Dantley for 23rd place all-time. Jason Terry also had 20 for Boston.
”Winning is hard. I don’t know if all our guys get that,” coach Doc Rivers said. ”You have to play hard to win an NBA game. One game. It’s difficult and we’re not doing it.”
The Kings took a six-point lead midway through the third quarter when Thornton was fouled by Terry on a 3-pointer. Thornton sprained his left ankle on the play when he landed on Terry’s foot and left the game.
”When it happened I thought it was worse because it felt so bad at that point in time,” Thornton said. ”I’m just happy it was a sprain.”
Johnson made the free throw to complete the four-point play and make it 63-57.
A 3-pointer by Thomas extended Sacramento’s lead to 13 points in the final minute of the third. The Celtics trailed 84-73 after three – the 11th straight quarter they had trailed after on this road trip.
The Kings got off to a fast start with the Celtics playing the back end of a back-to-back and led by 10 early. The Celtics trailed 54-49 at halftime after Garnett beat the buzzer with a layup when the Kings got caught celebrating Cousins’ basket with 1.5 seconds remaining.
NOTES: Sacramento’s previous triple-double was by Beno Udrih at Cleveland on March 28, 2010. … Evans will get a second opinion this week on his sore left knee that sidelined him for the 12th time this season. … Celtics G Leandro Barbosa rejoined the team after going home to his native Brazil to deal with family issues. He entered late and scored two points in 4 minutes.