After coughing up a 14-point fourth-quarter lead to a Phoenix Suns club seemingly hell-bent on avoiding another disappointing defeat, the Sacramento Kings found themselves with possession in a tie ballgame and 2.5 seconds left to untie it. This is the sort of situation where it'd be really nice to have a humongous All-Star capable of creating his own shot and offensively gifted enough to hit it, even against tight coverage.
... Hey, wait a second! The Kings do have a guy like that now!
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As Ben McLemore prepared to trigger the inbounds pass, a quick foul-line screen on Suns center Miles Plumlee by Kings forward Derrick Williams prompted a Phoenix switch and got Boogie matched up with the smaller Markieff Morris. Cousins made the catch with one foot behind the 3-point line on the right wing, took one dribble to his left, stepped back and began to elevate, giving just enough of a ball-fake to draw Morris off-balance and into the air. With his defender airborne, Cousins calmly stepped through into the opening left by Morris and fired up a jumper that caught the heel of the rim, caromed forward off the front of the cylinder and splashed through at the buzzer to give the Kings an 85-83 win and snap a three-game losing streak.
It was yet another brutal beat for the Suns, who have not only lost four of their last five, but have now lost four games on opponents' buzzer-beating game-winners — one by Blake Griffin, one by Khris Middleton, one by James Harden and, now, one by Boogie. Add in several other tough late losses — on a Jeff Green putback with 4.5 seconds left, plus overtime defeats at the hands of the Thunder, the Grizzlies and these Kings — and you've got an awfully daunting late-and-close record for a club fighting tooth-and-nail to hold off Oklahoma City and New Orleans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. (Entering Monday's games, Phoenix remains a game up on the Pelicans and two games ahead of the Thunder.)
The Suns couldn't believe they were on the receiving end of yet another final-play dagger, according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:
"Here we go again," Markieff Morris said he thought. [...]
"Once it hit the front of the rim, I was like, 'Man, not again,'" Suns point guard Isaiah Thomas said. [...]
"You never lose by that shot," Suns forward P.J. Tucker said. "We lost by a shot but we lost a trillion possessions before that with the mistakes we made."
While there was agony in the Suns' locker room, you'd expect there to be a little bit of ecstasy in Sacramento's after earning just their second victory in the last 13 games. And yet, after scoring a game-high 28 points to go with 12 rebounds, two assists and two blocks, plus the game-winner, Cousins sure didn't seem especially happy following the win.
A week of boiling-over frustrations culminated in chatter about another potential in-season coaching change in Sacramento, with George Karl reportedly close to replacing Tyrone Corbin, who replaced the fired Mike Malone in December. Recent reports have suggested at least some concern in Cousins' "camp" about the prospect of the Kings hiring Karl, who has the sixth-most wins of any coach in NBA history, an established relationship with Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro going back to their days together with the Denver Nuggets, and a pace-pushing philosophy that would seem to dovetail with the uptempo, experimental brand of ball reportedly preferred by Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadivé. (Oh, and he also definitely wants to coach again.)
Cousins' agents say they're not gumming up the works, though, and Boogie's apparent distaste at being painted as an oppositional force manifested itself in a strange post-game session with reporters, as captured by Cowbell Kingdom:
Nah, I ain't pumped up. I just got a lot on my mind. The crazy thing about it? I just got a question for y'all: how you gonna stop God's plan? How you gonna do that? How you gonna do that? That's what I want to know. How you gonna stop God's plan?
Man, this city done put me through so much. I done stayed loyal to it the whole time. Hey, I just want to know how you gonna stop God's plan. God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers. The marathon continues. I'm out.
Nobody asked Cousins about the coaching rumors, according to Blake Ellington of Sactown Royalty: "An observation was made about how he looked like he was still really pumped up following the game-winning shot, and it prompted that response." OK, then.
Clearly, the Kings don't mind Boogie's impromptu table-turning, turning his closer into an Instagram post:
The latest updates in the continuing marathon? Corbin is still the Kings' head coach, at least for the moment; the next move belongs to Kings ownership; and Sacramento's getting ready to fly to Illinois ahead of Tuesday's date with the Chicago Bulls.
Corbin's coaching has left something to be desired since taking over for Malone, but it's regrettable that he's being left to twist in the wind like this. He's handling it about as well as you could, trying to take things one step at a time and reminding his players to do the same, according to Ellington:
"[...] I told these guys inside, 'look, the only thing you can control is the way you play on the floor,'" Corbin said. "Rumors and speculation will be around as long as you are in this league and I've been around a long time. You have to try and find a way to fight through those things and play, and, you know, I thought the way they did it tonight was great for them going forward. Who knows what will happen, but for them to get a victory like this tonight and stay together through these kind of conditions is good for them."
And whatever comes next will be whatever comes next. After a stop in New York for All-Star Weekend and a week off afterward, Cousins and the Kings will return to trying to execute the plan; whether it's God's or Ranadivé's or Karl's or someone else's, though, remains to be seen. Either way, the marathon will continue, wending its way toward the dire destination of a ninth straight missed postseason.
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