Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kings, Omri Casspi down Knicks in overtime

 Kings’ Beno Udrih, center, of...
By Ailene Voisin / McClatchy Newspapers

NEW YORK — In front of a Madison Square Garden audience that sang his name, cheered his performance, and applauded him again at the end, Omri Casspi’s teammates gave him the sweetest gift of all.
They gave him a win. They eased his burden, protected his wing, and when he faltered in the second half, emotionally and physically exhausted from two days of interviews and receptions, they provided the final, fateful push.
"I was so happy for him," Tyreke Evans said Tuesday night after the Sacramento Kings defeated the New York Knicks 118-114 in overtime, a wide, boyish grin on his face. "I know how much this meant to him. There so many Jewish people here. It was almost a home game for him."

This was Omri Casspi’s night, Jewish Heritage Night, and the night a performance lived up to the hype.
En route to stopping a six-game losing streak their first road win since that comeback victory in Chicago, a span of 11 games the Kings had contributions from almost all of their youngsters, got nine consecutive overtime points from Kevin Martin, and rewarded coach/mad scientist Paul Westphal for his chronic, often weird, always unconventional tinkering.
Tuesday night, Westphal utilized a zone defense during the fourth-quarter comeback, benched Spencer Hawes after six defensively lackluster minutes, decided to bring Martin off the bench because his veteran missed shootaround with a migraine and suspected he would be unavailable. He played Casspi, Evans and Donte’ Greene major minutes, well aware his twentysomethings have yet another game tonight in Detroit.
But like he said later. This wasn’t just another game. They knew it, they earned it. Greene, stroking jumpers, rebounding, hustling. Jason Thompson, leaping and muscling for 11 boards. Martin, swiping a key offensive rebound in the extra period. Casspi, scoring 16 first-half points. And Evans, and especially in the final five minutes of regulation.
With the Knicks up 101-93 and four minutes left, the rookie point guard twice penetrated and found Thompson for dunks.
He even blamed himself for a miscommunication with 39 seconds left, when Casspi cut one way, suddenly turned the other way at the same time Evans was throwing the pass.
"If we had lost that game because of that play," said Evans, shaking his head. "I would have been so mad at myself because I’m the point guard."
No one, of course, was more satisfied than Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the league. His Manhattan visit was an ongoing series of interviews, receptions and gatherings with relatives, media members, Jewish dignitaries, with NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Approximately 1,000 tickets were purchased by Jewish groups, and before the game, youngsters in yarmulkes crowded the baseline.
During the game fans waved Israeli flags, gasped at Casspi’s play, and lingered appreciatively at the end.
But like the quarterback who buys his linemen dinner for having his back, Casspi should spring for the steaks Wednesday night in Detroit. These same teammates who jokingly accused him of setting NBA records for appearances, who intuitively, graciously, understood the pressure and sensed what this meant, were thoughtful and accommodating throughout.
At the buzzer, it was all there, relief, elation, gratitude. With another wide smile on his face, Evans immediately turned and reached for Casspi. Thompson and Greene waited for him at midcourt, where the three posed for photos. Casspi looked into the stands at his brother (Eitan) and father (Shimon), who stood there clapping, beaming.
"When I left the court," said Casspi before leaving, "it was one of the most exciting moments of my life."
(c) 2010, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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