It wasn’t “Havlicek stole the ball” or “a steal by Bird; underneath to DJ, he lays it in.”
But for Tyreke Evans on a nationally televised stage that his stellar play earned him and his teammates this season, it might as well have been. Casual NBA fans aren’t really going to remember this game or the defensive fortitude Evans showed after committing a questionable foul that never gets called unless Tim Donaghy is in the mix. But Kings fans and everyone in this organization is going to remember what happened in the final 16 seconds of this game.
This was the moment that could have signified Gilbert Arenas’ resurgence. He was flush with 33 points on 10/22 shooting and had the ball in his hands with the seconds ticking away and the majority of viewers expecting a dagger by Gil. But as he made his move – the same move he had killed the Kings with all night – there was something else in the cards for this evening. Instead of an Arenas resurgence, we saw Tyreke Evans’ emergence.
Evans saw the same crossover move that was destroying Sacramento coming at him and instead of being consumed by it he consumed it. It isn’t registered as a steal because Arenas fouled him before Tyreke could take possession of the basketball but we all know that it was the steal of the game. Tyreke Evans is going to take a lot of things from NBA players as the years go by. He’s going to take hardware and accolades from them (you’re on notice, Brandon Jennings). He’s going to take playoff wins and maybe a title if he’s lucky. He’s going to take a lot of pride away from guys with huge egos. And it all started when he took the win from Gilbert Arenas’ hands.
It’s not that he made a play to win the game. It’s that he made a play that never gets made to win the game. We never see defensive takeovers on the final plays of games. We may see a tipped shot or the defense at the mercy of whether or not a bad shot will fall as a player chucks it from 20-feet while fading away unnecessarily. But we never see the possession just ripped from a superstar’s hands from a rookie who simply decides not to be the guy to give up the shot.
“I just thought it was almost poetic to have it come down to a clear-out for Arenas and have Tyreke pick his pocket,” Coach Westphal said after the game. He added, “that’s what I told him to do; he’s very coachable.”
This wasn’t just a coming out party for Tyreke, who finished with 26 points, six assists, and six rebounds. It was a statement of establishment in this league. He didn’t stop at the defensive takedown and just go haphazardly shoot his free throws and hope Washington doesn’t come up with a miracle. He calmly went to the line, knocked down both free throws and watched a desperation attempt by Caron Butler careen off the iron. For rookies, these two things don’t simply happen. And they certainly don’t happen for a rookie who acts like this was anything but a fluke. For him, this was supposed to happen.
It capped off a night in which the Kings saw amazing balance in their scoring. Omri Casspi was also a rookie who excelled on the big ESPN-lit stage. He scored 22 points on 6/16 shooting with a few of his last shots coming up well short due to tired legs. He played a career-high 37 minutes. He also made eight of his nine free throw attempts, which for a rookie who was struggling through 50% season from the line is pretty big. Andres Nocioni also had a huge night. He scored 20 points on 8/15 shooting, while playing very solid defense on Caron Butler (16 points, 7/19 shooting) when he wasn’t being torched by Antawn Jamison (30 points, 11/22 shooting).
This was a night of a young Kings team trying to figure out how to close the game against a relentless offensive squad. Jamison kept the Wizards within striking distance in the first 15 minutes of the game with 20 of his 30 points and Gilbert Arenas got hot in the second half with 18 of his 33.
After Nocioni hit a wide-open three to put the Kings up 100-88, the Wizards came back with a furry to try to close out the final six minutes of this game with a lot of pride. They chipped away with quick scores, free throws and a big three-point play by Haywood off an offensive rebound. The Kings got complacent with three turnovers and a lot of waiting for the whistle to blow.
But ultimately, the late surge meant nothing but a set-up to Tyreke Evans taking the night. It was a night in which Kobe Bryant made a game-winner on a jump shot. Evans showed a little more depth by winning the game with his defense and confidence.
- Spencer Hawes only received eight minutes and didn’t start the game. Westphal said Omri got the start because of matchups with Jamison. When Hawes did come in, he played really well. His defense was solid, he was extremely active and he even threw down a dunk.
- The Kings made 81.8% from the free throw line.
- Only nine turnovers for this Kings team.
- Kings enjoyed a huge advantage for fastbreak points with a 33-12 margin in that category.
- Tyreke Evans gave birth to the future tonight. The rest of the league declined comment because they fear this child.