With all due respect to Tyreke Evans and his Wile E. Coyote: Super Genius layup, the real star of the Sacramento Kings' 117-103 win over the Phoenix Suns was Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who was an absolute monster on Thursday night for whom the Suns had no answer ... especially early on.
Between the 3:48 mark of the first quarter and the 11:31 mark of the second quarter, Cousins was the only King to score ... and he scored 17 consecutive Sacramento points. During that four-minute, 17-second stretch, he shot a perfect 7 for 7 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the foul line, outscoring the Suns 17-12. He scored inside and out, using his quickness to maneuver around defenders on the block, bulling his way to the rim, scoring off the offensive glass and showcasing perimeter touch; he even smoothly stroked a 3-pointer when defender Hamed Hadaddi showed a lack of respect for his range by giving him too much space on a catch at the top of the key. The stretch accounted for half of Cousins' game-high 34 points, which he tallied on 12 for 16 shooting from the field and 9 for 9 from the stripe, to go with 14 rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in just 30 minutes of play; he sat the entire fourth quarter, his services not really required as Sacramento held Phoenix at bay.
Granted, a Phoenix team that entered Thursday ranked 22nd among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession and 26th in points allowed in the paint (according to NBA.com's stat tool), has been outperformed on a per-minute basis by opposing power forwards and centers all season, is playing without injured starting center Marcin Gortat and is, in the words of SB Nation's Tom Ziller, "unabashedly tanking" as it counts down the days before another draft lottery appearance wouldn't necessarily figure to pose the stiffest defensive challenge. And sure, it's not a record-setting run or anything — we've seen LeBron James score 25 in a row in the playoffs against the Detroit Pistons, Manu Ginobili score 24 straight against the Atlanta Hawks and other more potent performances.
Still, it's kind of neat to watch a player, perhaps especially one as (fairly) maligned as Cousins has been this season, just step into a groove. Also neat: Cousins' reaction to being told about his run after the game, and his reaction to his coach's reaction, both of which comes to us from Jonathan Dalton of the Associated Press:
"I didn't even realize it," Cousins said. "I was more caught up in the turnover I had. That's some of the advantages I do have, my size and the ability to shoot ball, so I just took advantage of it." [...]
"We have a unique big man," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "He's a big who can play big but has the skills of a guard and a perimeter player. He has the whole package. When everything comes along in his life, when he grows up and sells into how he plays every night in the NBA, he'll be a special talent."
Told of his coach's analysis, Cousins said, "Why, thank you."
Also neat, and worth watching again: Cousins' on-the-break hammering on Hadaddi:
Also neat: How hot the Kings' offense has been over the past five weeks.
Before the much-maligned trade of 2012 lottery pick Thomas Robinson to the Houston Rockets, Sacramento was tied for 19th in the league in points scored per possession, according to NBA.com's stat tool. Since the deal, which brought back power forward Patrick Patterson, center Cole Aldrich and guard Toney Douglas, the Kings have been the league's third-best offense, scoring at a scorching 109.9 points per 100 possessions pace that trails only the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder in offensive efficiency.
They're playing much faster (averaging about three more possessions per 48 minutes), they're making a higher percentage of their shots in the restricted area (up from 57.4 percent to 60.9 percent, which is huge when you take the league's fifth-most shots inside the circle), and they're taking and making way more 3-pointers, both from the corners and above the break. They still can't defend worth a damn — they're allowing about one fewer point per 100 possessions, which improves them from dead-last in the league before the trade to 26th since it — but Keith Smart's team has been much more successful at running a pace-and-space, spread-you-out-and-attack system that's enabled the Kings to outscore opponents, like the Suns, with insufficient firepower. And when the outside shooting coincides with an engaged, aggressive, in-rhythm Cousins, the results can be ... well, neat. (Especially on a three-game, not-so-exciting-otherwise night.)