Momentum had faded. The Sacramento Kings witnessed a 12-point halftime lead dissipate as the Orlando Magic outscored them 30 to 16 in the third period. With his team trailing by two, Keith Smart needed an infusion of energy going into the final frame.
His solution? Small ball.
The Kings’ undersized lineup changed the pace of the game and it reflected in the box score. Sacramento scored nearly half (11) of their 25 fastbreak points in the final period. Their willingness to run also led to an aggressive attack, which was rewarded with 18 trips to the line in the fourth quarter. Prior to that, the Kings had attempted just 10 free throws.
Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas ate up all 12 backcourt minutes in the fourth for the Kings yesterday evening. They scored 22 of Sacramento’s 44 bench points in the final period. With their speed and quickness, they pushed the tempo, keeping Orlando’s defense on its heels.
A far cry from a week ago, when the topic at hand was about how Smart needed to choose between his two second-year guards. Instead a week later, the duo showed that they could play together while leading the Kings to victory.
“It was a great dynamic,” said Fredette of playing alongside Thomas. “I think it’s two guys that can shoot the ball, but also can make plays for other people, can get into the lane and penetrate.”
The Fredette/Thomas backcourt was a combination the Kings haven’t used much this year. But playing without Tyreke Evans, it became a viable option Friday night.
“We just played hard,” Thomas said of his and Fredette’s combined effort yesterday. “We’ve been on the court together a few times last year and we were pretty successful.
“I tell him when I’m in, ‘When I pass it to you, just shoot it’,” Thomas added. “He was aggressive, I was aggressive and we fed off each other.”
The Kings also received a boost from their frontcourt reserves, especially Thomas Robinson. An undersized player for his position himself, the rookie forward had one of his finest performances of the season, all while scoring just one point and committing four fouls.
“He changed the whole game and didn’t even score a bucket really,” said DeMarcus Cousins of his rookie teammate after the victory. “I told him that’s how you should go out there and play every night.”
Like Fredette and Thomas, Robinson played the entire fourth period. Scoring-wise, he was a non-factor. But he still managed to affect the game positively on the offensive end, recording all three of his assists in the final quarter. Also, his activity on defense created transition opportunities for the Kings.
“He was out there getting defensive stops,” Thomas said of Robinson. “Out there getting defensive rebounds and just bringing a lot of energy. And that’s what he has to do.”
Orlando’s personnel influenced Smart’s decision to trust his undersized lineup in the fourth quarter. J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo aren’t known for their post-up abilities, so the Kings coach believed playing small could be successful against the Magic.
And they were. The Kings combated their lack of size by running and putting defensive pressure on Orlando’s offense.
“Every game has a different personality,” Smart said in his postgame press conference. “Tonight, the lineup that Orlando had allowed me to do that.”