MINNEAPOLIS — Rudy Gay has heard all the criticism and been confronted with the harsh reality that the last two teams to trade him have flourished with him gone.
Now that he is being counted on to be a leader for these young, impressionable Sacramento Kings, Gay is starting to have an effect on more than just the box score.
Gay had 33 points, five rebounds and six assists, and Isaiah Thomas had 26 points and seven assists to lead the Kings to a 111-108 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
“He’s such a pro,” Kings coach Michael Malone said of Gay, who was held in check in a loss to Indiana the previous night. “After the game in Indiana, I said a couple of words and he stepped up and apologized to his teammates for how he played last night. He felt he didn’t show up.”
He sure did on Wednesday.
Gay hit 12-of-19 shots and Derrick Williams had 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting in his first game at Target Center since the Timberwolves traded him to the Kings in November. DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points and 11 boards, and the Kings shot 55 percent to win for the fourth time in five games.
Kevin Love had 27 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota (18-20). But Ricky Rubio committed five of Minnesota’s 12 turnovers and the Wolves fell to 0-11 in games decided by four points or less.
“We’re so hands-off defensively,” lamented Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman. “It almost takes an act of Congress to foul somebody. You have to get after people in this league.”
The Kings seemed to have the game well in hand with a nine-point lead and under two minutes to play.
But Love hit two 3-pointers and J.J. Barea converted a three-point play that cut the deficit to 109-108 with 4.6 seconds remaining.
Gay hit a big trey and Cousins hit a couple of clutch free throws down the stretch and Barea’s heave at the buzzer fell short.
“I just knew I had to come out here and perform for this team, for my teammates,” Gay said. “There’s still more I could’ve done.”
The Kings had a three-game winning streak come to a crashing halt the previous night when they were drubbed by the Indiana Pacers. But they showed more energy, aggressiveness and spark from the opening tip against a team that had the previous two days off and is scratching and clawing to stay in the playoff conversation in the powerful Western Conference.