Keeping up with the little lefty, Isaiah Thomas, has always been a difficult challenge for John Wall because of his speed, shiftiness and ball-handling. Thomas, the Sacramento Kings point guard, likes to weave into crevices, catch his defenders off-balance and pull-up for jumpers and floaters.
On Sunday, Thomas had Wall and the Wizards dizzy with his non-stop motion – on one possession, he actually dribbled in a circle around the paint – and dropped a game-high 30 points.
“With him on their team, those little guards get the opportunity to keep running around and keep getting a lot of shots up,” Wall said. “He came out, making shots early and got himself going. He stepped up the load of scoring a lot.”
But the Wizards made sure that Thomas was the only member of Sacramento’s trio of 20-point scorers to have a big offensive game, riding a stifling defensive effort on DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay to defeat the Kings, 93-84.
Wall had anticipated that Cousins would “be on a rampage” after being passed over for the all-star game despite averaging 22.9 points and rebounds. After the coaches left Cousins off the team, new commissioner Adam Silver announced on Friday that Anthony Davis – a fellow Kentucky alum – would replace the injured Kobe Bryant as an alternate. That night, Cousins torched Boston for 31 points and 16 rebounds.
Cousins has also had some success in the past against Wizards center Marcin Gortat, posting a career-high 41 points on Gortat two years ago. The Wizards had some problems containing Tim Duncan last week, so Cousins seemed ready for a big game – until he hit the floor. Cousins missed 13 of 16 shots, with Marcin Gortat and Nene teaming up to make his night miserable, and finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“You know his average?” Nene said. “That dude. I love him. I always give him advice but when the ball go up, I’m going to try to deny him, to stop him and the team did really well with him.”
Gay, the Baltimore native whom the Kings acquired last month from Toronto, was back near his hometown but also struggling with the flu and finished with five points – his lowest scoring game when playing at least 25 minutes – on 2-for-11 shooting. Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster again foiled Gay after forcing him into missing 10 of 16 shots to score 17 points when he was with the Raptors in late November.
“You have to give Washington credit,” Kings Coach Michael Malone said. “I thought they did a great job defending DeMarcus Cousins. They were physical with him. Obviously, Rudy was not himself, so there’s two-thirds of your scoring punch.”
The duo of Cousins and Gay came roughly 25 points shy of their combined season average.
“When we take away two of their scorers and give them one option, I like our chances,” said Trevor Ariza, who paired up with Martell Webster to fluster Gay.
The Wizards (25-25) also have to like their chances when they hold the opposition below 100 points. Washington has struggled with consistency this season, but there is little doubt that the team has success when it plays defense. It is now 18-6 when holding opponents below triple digits.
In losses to Cleveland and San Antonio, the Wizards had surrendered a combined 240 points. The Cavaliers and Spurs shot the ball well and made some ridiculous shots, but the Wizards aided them by poor switches, late rotations and an overall indifferent effort.
Aside from a brief loss of focus in the second-half against Sacramento, the Wizards were engaged defensively and unwilling to let it happen for the third straight game. They held the Kings more than 17 points below their season average entering the game and also forced Sacramento in shooting just 35.4 percent, which was the lowest field goal percentage by an opponent this season. Golden State had the previous mark when it shot just 37.5 percent on Jan. 28, when the Wizards held the Warriors to just 85 points.
“Our defense was better,” Coach Randy Wittman said, while specifically mentioning the efforts on Cousins and Gay. “We gave a lot of contested shots to both those guys. Gay has been under the weather a little bit. I think he missed their last game in Boston with the flu, so I’m sure he wasn’t himself. Everything that they got, even Rudy’s two baskets were tough-contested, as well as DeMarcus. This team can score. With three guys, and obviously Isaiah, going for 30 proved to us that one of them still did a good job of that.”