From pregame warmups to the tense final minutes of a 109-100 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, the Kings’ thoughts were decidedly melancholy a day after their longtime teammate was traded to Orlando.
“It was an emotional day. We just couldn’t believe it,” said Peja Stojakovic, who scored 27 points with Christie’s initials and uniform number also written on his shoe. “We’re professionals and we got a great win, but we’re going to miss him. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”
Despite Christie’s departure and their short bench, the Kings hung together for an impressive win. Using zone defenses, good free throw shooting and big contributions from role players, the Kings played through the shock for their 17th straight home victory over Denver.
Bibby added 18 points for the Kings, who reacted to the trade of their top defender with much the same ambivalence shown by the Magic, who wore black armbands with Mobley’s number in Boston on Monday night.
“I couldn’t get used to Doug not being out there yet,” Bibby said. “I was looking for him a couple of times. It’s hard. We were thinking about him.”
Rookie Kevin Martin scored 11 of his career-high 17 points in the second quarter for the Kings, who held off several late charges by the Nuggets.
After trailing by 14, Denver tied it at 89 midway through the fourth quarter, but Sacramento responded with a 15-5 run kicked off by Stojakovic’s 3-pointer. Bibby, Maurice Evans and Miller all made big free throws down the stretch for the Kings, who haven’t lost to the Nuggets in Sacramento since Jan. 7, 1997.
“It’s the same old story with all the games we’ve lost,” said Kenyon Martin, who scored 17 points for Denver. “I’m fed up with it, fed up.”
Andre Miller had 16 points and 11 assists for the Nuggets, who lost their fifth straight and 11th in 12 games. With general manager Kiki Vandeweghe watching with concern, the Nuggets dropped to 1-5 under interim coach Michael Cooper by playing dismal defense and repeatedly squandering chances to take the lead in the final three quarters.
“We should have beaten them,” Cooper said. “They didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves—turning the ball over, not boxing out and all the other little things.”
The Nuggets had plenty of opportunities to finish off the weary Kings, but showed none of the passion necessary to capitalize on their talent advantage. Carmelo Anthony struggled, scoring 16 points on 4-of-14 shooting and often looking bored on defense.
“We’ve got to figure out as a whole how to win games,” Anthony said. “The last couple of games, we’ve been cutting the leads to two points, and the other team has just been taking it away. We came out fast, then slowed down. We’ve made some progress, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”
After going 2-2 with a loss to New Orleans on a lackluster road trip, Sacramento got major contributions from role players while opening a stretch with seven of eight games at home.
Darius Songaila and Evans replaced Webber and Christie in the starting lineup. Evans scored 14 points and made a breathtaking alley-oop dunk on a half-court pass from Bibby, while Songaila provided 12 points and tough defense before fouling out with 1:12 to play.
Kevin Martin—the Kings’ own K-Mart—dominated the second quarter with more of the seemingly effortless offensive game he has shown since Bobby Jackson was sidelined with a wrist injury last month. The rookie also went 9-for-11 on free throws, repeatedly driving the lane against Anthony and Andre Miller.
The clubs combined to shoot 38 free throws in the fourth quarter, two shy of the Arco Arena record. … Bibby turned his ankle with 9:42 to play, briefly leaving Eddie House at point guard during crunch time in his first game with the Kings. House, acquired by Sacramento off waivers last week, went scoreless in 11 minutes.