SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—For one day at least, the off-court acrimony over a decision not to build a new arena was put aside by Sacramento Kings fans.
Despite anger over Friday’s announcement by Kings ownership that the arena plans were shelved, a near-sellout crowd showed up at aging Power Balance Pavilion on Sunday and was sent home happy by Marcus Thornton.
Thornton scored 20 points and made the winning jumper with 3.4 seconds left, lifting the struggling Kings to a 104-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Kings rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a seven-game skid with only their third win in 15 games.
It was the first home game in Sacramento since the Maloof family announced at the NBA owners meetings that they were backing out of a proposed downtown arena plan in Sacramento.
Since announcing their decision, the Maloofs have been under sharp criticism from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, local business leaders and angered fans, who still showed up for the mid-afternoon game. Attendance was 16,012.
“We had a few (fans) that may have voiced their opinion, but once the game started going and became an excitable game, I think they fell back to the side,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “People get upset, but they are die-hard Kings fans. They like Kings basketball, it’s just that they are a little heart-broken, like everyone is right now.”
A reliable clutch shooter this season, Thornton said he was Smart’s choice to take the winning shot. Following a timeout, Thornton came off a pick from DeMarcus Cousins and was surprisingly wide open. He swished a 17-footer off an inbound pass. Portland’s Raymond Felton raced up court and missed a desperation shot from halfcourt at the buzzer.
“I was stunned how open I was,” said Thornton, who went 4 of 5 from the floor in the fourth quarter for eight points. “I got to my spot, got the space I needed, and shot it. Thank God it went in.”
Cousins scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and also had seven rebounds. The second-year center had been in a recent scoring funk the past six games after going for a career-high 41 points in an April 3 loss to Phoenix.
“It took a while, but it feels good to get a win,” Cousins said. “Even with all the drama going on, our fans came out and supported us, stayed engaged in the game and showed their loyalty toward us. So we’re thankful to have them and we love them for it.”
Wes Matthews made a career-high eight 3-pointers and scored 31 points for the Trail Blazers, who made 16 of their 32 3-point attempts. His biggest shot appeared to have given the Blazers the victory.
After a steal by Terrence Williams gave the Kings the ball, Cousins drove the baseline on Joel Przybilla and made a difficult left-handed shot from close range. However, Matthews quickly answered, getting free of Francisco Garcia for a corner 3-pointer, giving the Blazers a 103-102 lead with 5.8 seconds left.
“I wasn’t going to pass it out, I had to take that shot,” said Matthews, who made seven second-half 3-pointers, a Sacramento arena record for a half by an opposing player. “I didn’t really want to take a shot as early as I did, but Garcia jumped on my right hand. My favorite shot is a step-back so he gave it to me.”
The Blazers, who have dropped two straight and four of five, are close to being eliminated from playoff contention in the Western Conference.
Trailing by three, Matthews hit a 3 from the corner and Felton added a jumper, giving Portland a 100-98 lead at the 1:17 mark. Two free throws by Evans tied the game again with just over 35 seconds remaining.
After the Blazers built a 10-point lead in the fourth, the Kings scored 10 unanswered points. Thornton made a fastbreak lay-in and Evans followed with a layup in traffic, tying the game at 91 with 5:46 left.
The Sacramento franchise, which appeared to be relocating to Anaheim at the end of last season, has now fallen under another cloud of uncertainty. Although the Kings will remain in Sacramento next season, now that the arena plan has seemingly failed, it’s not clear what the Maloofs will do for the 2013-14 season.
Joe and Gavin Maloof kept a low profile at Sunday’s game, watching from their luxury box and turning down interview requests from the media. Their usual courtside seats were occupied by an elderly couple and two young children.
Surprisingly, there was little discontent from the Sunday matinee crowd. But that doesn’t mean Kings fans aren’t bitter about the latest failure to build a new arena.
“My partner and I are reevaluating whether we want to renew (our season tickets) next year,” said Troy Gotschalle of Stockon, a season-ticket holder for seven seasons, “We are kind of waiting on the Maloofs to see if they have any new direction. But right now we are just not happy. They waited until the very end to drop a bomb on us. I feel a little abused.”
Hickson came to the Kings in an offseason trade and expected to be the starting power forward. However, he mostly came off the bench and was unhappy and also unproductive, averaging 4.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 18 minutes.
The Kings released Hickson on March 19 and the injury-riddled Blazers picked him up. Hickson, who will be a restricted free agent after the season, was averaging 20 points and 11.3 rebounds in his four previous starts with the Blazers.
“It wasn’t a good fit for me or the (Kings) organization,” said Hickson, who outplayed Kings starting forward Jason Thompson. “I just didn’t want to get caught up in that match up of me coming back here against a team I played for in the past. Playing against the Kings is no different from playing against any other team.”
After shooting poorly in the opening half, Matthews went off in the third quarter when he made five 3s and scored 19 points, helping the Blazers take an 81-79 lead into the fourth.
Portland led by as many as 10 in the third, but Cousins had 12 points and Thomas added nine to help rally the Kings.
Notes: Felton scored 13 points in the first half for the Blazers, who shot 52 percent and led 54-46. … Garcia was back in uniform after missing the last four games with a concussion. He went scoreless in six minutes. … The Blazers are 8-10 since interim coach Kaleb Canales took over for Nate McMillan on March 15. … Portland made 6 of 9 3-point attempts in the third quarter, when they shot 60 percent overall. … The Kings committed six turnovers, one short of their season low.